FF #11: Wellness Surprises 2011


Hotdog Headaches

    We occasionally entertained ourselves when hiking overseas this summer by charging up a steep slope hoping to record a maximum heart rate on our new heart rate monitor. Bill abruptly stopped in agony during one such effort. It wasn’t his pounded heart or the gasping for air that terrified him but what was going on inside his head. Blue colors and a weird headache had him wondering what had snapped--and if it was permanent. We were at 8,000’ and he’d had complaints when exerting at 7,000’ before, again forcing me to conclude that there was no point in continuing to research our trip to much higher Machu Picchu. His concerns were more immediate however.

Bill could safely eat nitrites/nitrates at this sea level snack bar.

After several online sessions over the next few days, Bill finally had a plausible explanation for this new and disturbing health problem: he had likely experienced the sudden onset of a “hotdog headache.”

  A small percentage of people get vasodilatation and then headaches from eating nitrates/nitrites,  chemicals often found in processed or cured meats and sometimes in cheeses.  Bill’s susceptibility was likely so borderline that he was only noticeably affected by the nitrates/nitrites if he was exerting at altitude when he had the chemicals on board.

    Bill had been eating cured meats for breakfast at our Arabba, Italy B&B, so it fit. Over the following days, numerous episodes of distress in the mountains the last 6 years suddenly became clear--Bill’s classic bouts of fatigue and seeming illness while climbing passes on his bike weren’t due to simple altitude susceptibility, but altitude susceptibility enhanced by nitrates/nitrites.  The Alpine and Germanic cultures are very fond of cured meats and they were regional treats that Bill often indulged in--ironically--only when in the mountains.

   I don’t have a clue as to whether I have the same susceptibility to nitrates/nitrites as Bill because I have scrupulously avoided them since I was 19. It was then when I learned that nitrate ingestion could cause stomach cancer. Given that I have a strong family history of lethal stomach cancer, I had no interest in worsening my odds. But lacking that extra vulnerability, Bill concluded he could seasonally indulge in the preservatives that are now primarily used as flavor enhancers with little risk.

    As we continued to ride our bikes out of the Dolomites, we both gasped and laughed upon seeing the many bends in the roads to the passes where Bill had bonked over the years. I remembered them more vividly than he did because I had been busy monitoring his flagging progress, scouting a suitable next place for him to stop, and coaxing him to the resting place where he could gather himself together enough to pedal a little farther. It had been an agonizing process for both of us when these lapses in strength occurred and we never could quite understand them.  Clearly altitude was a factor but the erratic pattern of onset never made sense with the other likely variables, like food and fluid intake or conditioning.

    As the days rolled by, Bill dried out from his nitrate/nitrite contamination and felt completely well again.  “Speck headaches” became our term for Bill’s malady because “speck” was the name of the region’s predominant cured meat. The more time that passed, the more confident Bill was that his new health problem was easily solved. It meant giving up yet another favorite food in the name of wellness but this one was easier than the others to forgo because he felt so much better when he complied.

    Over the next several weeks there could be no doubt that in the past he indeed had suffered for days at a time from speck headaches. After this discovery, he pushed himself hard on the bike and when hiking at almost 10,000’ and never again experienced his characteristic pattern of distress and weariness when exerting at altitude. The chapter was closed by adding “vergiften” and “avvelenarsi” to our vocabularies, the German and Italian words for “to poison oneself.”  But Machu Picchu is still on hold until we run Bill up some steep slopes at even higher elevations in the Rockies to see how he does there--without any nitrates.

    Should you be in Europe reading the labels on meats and cheeses, know that E249, E250, E251 & E252 are literally code for the various combinations of nitrates and nitrites with sodium and potassium. Occasionally the words will be spelled out, which are fairly easy to recognize in most of the western European languages.

Show-Down at the Kitchen Sink: Bill & Barb vs the FDA

    Too many of our traveling years have had an overlay of infectious disease perils adding to our generic worries, such as BSE, H1N1, and SARS.  This year was no exception, with the E. coli outbreak in Europe inflicting hemolytic uremic syndrome on many of the infected at an unusually high rate just before we departed for Amsterdam. That is a terrible potential complication of the intestinal infection, killing some and destroying the kidneys of others.

    We nervously began double-washing our fresh produce at home even though the outbreak was in Europe. By the time we touched down on the continent, the outbreak was still raging and the probable source of infection was slowly shifting from cucumbers and tomatoes from Spain to bean sprouts from Germany. We were comforted by having stopped eating bean sprouts years ago after a bacterial outbreak caused by contaminated sprouts occurred in our region and by still scrupulously washing our fresh produce in a weak solution of dish detergent as we’d done for years.

    Weeks later I was horrified to learn that a similar E. colic outbreak with the same kidney-damaging properties was occurring in Portland as we left for Europe and we hadn’t even know it. The ultimate cause of this outbreak was more disturbing than the sprouts event, which had been due to the classic cause: poor hygiene practices by food handlers. Instead, the Portland area outbreak was caused by infected deer pooping on strawberries in the field--a much tougher hazard to anticipate. Suddenly we felt wise instead of foolish for washing our produce more thoroughly upon news of the European outbreak.

    While reading about the strawberry-carried bacterial outbreak in Portland I again noticed that some sources recommended against washing produce in detergent and decided to re-evaluate our strategy. The argument that I was familiar with was the potential health hazard from unknown chemicals in the detergent clinging to the produce and being ingested. For us it was a no-brainer: accepting the remote, unproven risk of ingestion of small amounts of unknown chemicals over years vs subjecting ourselves to the risk of a severe infection that ultimately necessitated a kidney transplant.

    But I read on anyway, hoping to learn something more significant. I laughed at the absurd recommendation to spritz dirty produce with distilled water. I mean really, spritzing? I was using gallons of water to quell my anxiety and spritzing wouldn’t cut it. And using distilled water instead of tap water to remove dirt was a ridiculous waste of energy. Others were going overboard in the other direction, using alternating bleach and vinegar rinses.

    Finally I got to the bottom of it: no authority in the US can recommend using detergents to wash produce because the FDA hasn’t studied the subject. Since the FDA hadn’t deemed it safe (or unsafe for that matter), it couldn’t officially be recommended. And of course, the FDA won’t ever take that one on. They have a tremendous backlog of more important substances to be evaluated and they’d have to test all of the detergents on the market to be fair. In our minds, the consumer was being coached to accept unreasonable infectious disease risks solely because a government agency was too overburdened to make a decision.

    So it’s back to being committed to treating our produce like our laundry except for using less detergent: agitation and a several minute soak in water with a few drops of dish washing detergent; rinse; a second, briefer detergent cycle; and 2-4 rinses. We’ll dilute our poisons by not always using the same brand of detergent and expect to stay off the kidney dialysis ward with this regime during future E. coli outbreaks.   

    In making your own decisions about trading-off the health hazards of using detergent on your produce vs ingesting harmful bacteria, be sure to factor your age into the equation. Some diseases, like the Listeriosis spread on cantaloupes in September 2011, are more lethal for the very young and the old. With Listeriosis, diminished immune function is sufficiently significant by the time you are 60 years old to increase your risk of dying from infection and your risk continues to increase with subsequent aging. By age 60 the number of years until you hit your “Best used by date” aren’t so far away, so you are less likely to suffer ill effects from accumulating toxins from ingesting small amounts of detergent. Making your best decision is all about trade-offs.....

A New Killer on the Loose: OJ

    I was horrified this year to read that something as seemingly wholesome as pure orange juice can be toxic to your liver. I’ve chugged about a half a quart (or liter) of OJ almost daily for the last 20 years, so I hurriedly sifted through my records for reassurance. Fortunately my labs indicated that my naive recklessness hadn’t injured that indispensable organ. The ALT blood test number for liver function, formerly SGPT, revealed that my level was well below the panic point. Whew!

    But we immediately mended our ways: no more fructose sugar outside of its original wrapper: whole fruits only; no fruit juices of any kind even if they were 100% juice. Apparently the fiber ingested with whole fruit, and absent in juice, permits the liver to process the fructose in an orderly, healthy way. Fructose alone, the fruit sugar in fruit without the fiber, triggers a panic attack in the liver and it converts the sugar into fat and stores it like a toxin. In addition, ingestion of seemingly modest amounts of any kind of added sugar can have the same deleterious effect on the liver.

    Since reading about this issue in February, we’ve dropped juice from our menu and have limited our daily intake of added sugar by following the new American Heart Assoc. guidelines of about 25 grams of sugar for women and 36 grams for men. Dietary imprudence leading to obesity, including excessive use of sugar, is expected to be the leading cause of liver transplants by 2020.

    Months later, it was ‘good news/bad news’ when we looked at the impact of eliminating OJ from our diet and reducing our added sugar intake. The good news was that Bill’s lab results painted a rosier picture of metabolic health; the bad news was that our intake of citrus fruits had plummeted. OJ was something we could drink on the road or when we were in a hurry but eating an orange or grapefruit requires more planning and mop-up time. We are technically getting enough vitamin C from other food sources but I lament the loss of nutritional diversity that comes with including citrus in our daily diet.

The Mediterranean Diet

Ice cream: an essential ingredient in the modern Mediterranean Diet.

   We’ve long been fans of the Mediterranean diet: we eat a pile of fruits, vegetables, and grains every day and pour on the olive oil. But since we became overseas travelers, we’d been baffled by what we witnessed as the Mediterranean diet, with regrettable breakfasts of pre-packaged toast-like items, greasy croissants, and other low-nutrient,  and often low-taste, white flour products. 

    And then there is the astounding prevalence of ice cream cones which make their debut on the streets about 10 am. If we didn’t know better, we’d think that ice cream was considered a food group in the Mediterranean countries and in much of Europe. But a chance reading about the trendy diet on Wikipedia cleared the confusion: the Mediterranean Diet is based on what was eaten in the Med in the 1960’s, not the current diet.

Sudden Cardiac Death in Women

    A reassuring study published in the July 6, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Assoc. indicated a bias towards a healthy lifestyle decreases risk of SCD, Sudden Cardiac Death, by a whopping 92% in women. Rarely is any health intervention so effective, but this one seems for real. They also concluded that these lifestyle choices were more potent than heredity as the primary risk factor in SCD.

    Four lifestyle choices were monitored in 82,000 women over 26 years: smoking, body weight, exercise, and eating a Mediterranean-leaning diet. Women who weren’t currently smoking; had a BMI (body mass index) of 25 or less (the standard cut-off for obesity); who exercised at least 30 minutes a day; and who were in the top 40% of the study group for complying with a diet long on fruits, vegetables, and grains had a dramatically reduced risk of SCD.

    The authors highlighted that death is often the first sign of coronary artery disease, making a simple way to prevent it even more compelling. The study was in women but presumably men experience similar protective effects from doing what we know we are supposed to do. If you have been needing a little more incentive to make some changes, this study might do it. (And remember: those ice cream cones aren’t a part of the Mediterranean diet in the study.)

Physically Empowered Older Women

Losing It

    My heart breaks on every hike in the stunning peaks of the Italian Dolomites. It is the sight of middle-aged and older women that are struggling on the steep descents that makes me wince, that makes me wish for better for them. They are out there, they are doing it, but the look on their faces and the ways in which they hold their bodies tells a story of fear and apprehension. I know their angst; I’ve walked in their shoes, but I no longer do.

Too many women struggled descending from these peaks above Vigo, Italy.

    On one recent hike out of Vigo, Italy, each time I looked up when we were near the summit, I saw an older couple descending. The man was leading, confidently and quickly finding his way downhill without using poles. His female companion was frozen in an awkward stance well behind him, trekking poles held too far out in front in a position characteristic of apprehension.

    She was hesitating with every step, forcing herself to press-on without any certainty of a secure purchase despite repeatedly considering numerous options. Where they were, how they were dressed, and what they were doing suggested that this was something that these women used to be able to do with confidence.

    It was seeing these women, one after another, while we were making our ascent that triggered the thought “They should all become forefoot striking runners. That would help them immensely, that and probably a dose of estrogen, would make all the difference.” 

    Stability, and hence confidence, on difficult descents seems to be a matter of postural alignment, strength, and joint mobility.  Too many older women we saw on the steep trails were hoping trekking poles would be enough for them to reclaim what aging had taken away but poles don’t do it--I know--I too tried that strategy.  These women have to find another way to get back in the game, which is what I did.

Leg Strength & Joint Stability

    Structurally women’s knees aren’t as sturdy as men’s and women can feel that inherent weakness and hold back to protect themselves from injury on descents. I believe the best 2 ways to confront that lack of sturdiness are by strengthening the leg muscles and changing the foot strike to reduce the demands on the knees.

    Strong quads (front thigh muscles) are a potent elixir for many knee problems. Strong quads stabilize the knee joint and keeping the muscles buff literally lifts the knee cap a smidgen higher so there is more clearance in the joint. That extra clearance is helpful with roughness under the knee cap and with tilted knee caps, both of which I and many women suffer from. I’ve made a point to keep my quads bulky since it was recommended by an orthopedic surgeon 25 years ago and its been a huge benefit to my mobility.

    I personally have found that training on stairs, particularly descending 2 stairs at a time, has been profound in making my knees more sturdy for descents on hikes. Add running to your program, and the quads are even stronger. Cycling is a less stressful way to bulk up the quads, but in my experience, one also needs to condition the legs to the pounding, like from descending on stairs.

Gait & Alignment

    It’s taken me 2 years of increasing commitment to become a full-fledged forefoot striker, primarily as a hiker, but it’s been nothing short of a miraculous journey for my knees.  Three months ago I shifted from dabbling with jogging to becoming a dedicated forefoot striking runner and my knees are still waiting for the pain they knew when I ran 15 years ago--but it’s not there. My feet, calves, quads, and buttocks may constantly ache from the steadily increasing effort but as far as my knees are concerned, they are still snoozing in bed. I have zero pain, zero swelling in my knees, which still has me in a state of disbelief every day. The considerable pounding forces are dissipated in the foot when forefoot striking whereas the knee and hip joints take direct hits during heel striking.

      Like with running, becoming a forefoot striking hiker spared my knees, especially on the descents. The new gait also made me dramatically more stable on the steep slopes. The harrowing tendency of having my feet skid out from under me practically vanished as I become more consistent with forefoot striking. And that’s a nasty tendency I attributed to dislocating my shoulder 32 months ago when walking. I also suspect that circumventing knee pain and injury with forefooting is what has allowed me to unexpectedly achieve the highest level of overall fitness that I’ve known in my life.

I practically took flight the day everything snapped into place after a 2 year transition to becoming a skilled forefoot striker in minimalist shoes.

    Something far more subtle than the knee-sparing experience, but equally profound, was the alignment shift that followed my intentional gait change. It felt like something snapped into place on 2 different big hikes this summer.

    On both of those 2 days I suddenly was holding my body in a slightly different way, but a way that made my balance more refined. Rather than having my torso be a counterweight to my stumbling feet,  my torso became still while my feet took-up skillfully dancing in the loose rock on the trails. It was quite amazing for me to experience and for Bill to see as I suddenly zoomed past him down the slopes.

   Back home a practitioner knowledgable about the subtleties of the fascia layer of tissue in our bodies commented that the ‘snap into place’ experience was characteristic of the fascia adapting to the string of complex new alignments that were in the works for months. I don’t really understand it, but I know it made the difference between me slowly picking my way down a rocky slope and fearlessly flying down, even in thin-soled shoes.


       Buff quads, sturdy knees, forefoot striking, improved postural alignment, and a subtle but potent adaptation by my fascia were key in making me stable and confident on steep descents as an older woman but none of these elements would have mattered without prior hormone replacement.

    Supplemental estrogen is decidedly out of favor because of the increased risk of breast cancer and other health hazards, but for me there was no decision to be made. I was literally so incapacitated in so many ways by the lack of estrogen with menopause that I’ve taken buckets of it for 6 years. We both looked at these older women struggling on the steep descents and concluded that many of them were also “Low E” based on how I had looked and felt.

    One on the long list of devastating side effects of being “Low E” (low estrogen, as we call it) for me was almost crippling muscle and joint stiffness. If I sat in a chair for 10 minutes, I couldn’t rise without leveraging with my arms and then I had to move slowly and gradually come to a complete upright position. When I walked or hiked, my knees moved like they were ratcheted with 3 operating positions. I was miserable and felt unsafe on the trails because I never knew if my knees would give or hold with each step. Bill would sometimes hold my arm even when walking in town to help me stay on my feet. I’d be hobbled with stiffness for days after a hike. 

    My physician listened to my tales of woe and declared it was time to work up up for the onset of a new illness. Fortunately he was wrong, I only needed estrogen. It’s against the prescribing guidelines to administer estrogen for any reason other than hot flashes but my hot flashes were so horrific that I qualified. Four years later with little enthusiasm from my physician, I added a dash of testosterone to the mix, which all but eliminated the last of my musculoskeletal pain.

    Many women age well without hormone supplementation but it is something to seriously consider if you have lost your mobility or elasticity with menopause. It clearly has risks but the risks of becoming immobilized are also considerable. It’s an easier diagnosis and decision if your symptoms are catastrophic like mine were. Women with more intermediate symptoms may not understand the true source of their ‘aging’ problems, especially symptoms like mine that mimicked arthritis. But for me, hormone replacement has been the springboard from which I could become a physically empowered older woman.

    It’s taken me years of experimentation, strength building, and skill development, but at 60 I’m back in the game and I want to bring other older women along with me. I think very, very gradually becoming a forefoot-striking runner is the most straightforward way for an older woman to reclaim her physical sturdiness so that she can fully participate in whatever opportunities arise.

Polar Bear Club

Polar Bear Club at its best: grand scenery while soaking in glacier-melt.

    In his excellent book, Barefoot Running, Michael Sandler strongly recommends wrapping one’s feet in ice packs after each early attempt at barefoot running (forefoot striking).

  I wasn’t so compliant, but I did form the “Polar Bear Club” while we were hiking in our minimalist shoes in the Alps this summer.

    The best indoor Polar Bear Club meetings were when we had a bathtub in our room or apartment. After a nice hot bath, I’d drain the tub and draw about 8” of ice cold water and stand in it while I toweled-off and flossed my teeth. Bill would haul a chair into the bathroom and dangle his feet in the breathtakingly cold water.

    But even better were the Club meetings held outdoors in a glacier-melt lake or stream. Fortunately, Club meetings were only held for 15 minutes, which was carefully timed by Bill. Twenty minutes is our decades-old standard for icing irritated muscles or joints but we trimmed the time by 5 minutes because full-immersion is so much more intense.

Grabbing those soothing waters where we could.

    My feet would often get a bit puffy after hours on rocky trails in my 5 Fingers and we both frequently suffered some “dings” during the day, so a thorough chilling-down of our feet was a good general elixir. We usually managed to soak about 6 days out of 7 when hiking and our feet told us about it on the days we missed, even if it hadn’t been a hard day for them.  It became compelling as yet another good habit for taking care of ourselves during the ambitious transition to becoming forefoot strikers wearing minimalist footwear.

    A word of caution however: it is possible to actually kill yourself with this type of cold immersion. Something similar to my Polar Bear Club goes by the name of “Cold Pressor Test” and is used to evaluate cardiac health. It would be best to skip this potential stress to your heart if you have any cardiac issues at all.

The Myth About Walking

    With a sense of horror and outrage, almost daily I contemplate the prevalence of obesity in the western world and wonder “why.” There are of course are many well documented causes but I think one has been over looked: the myth regarding the benefits of walking. Walking is widely promoted as exercise and I don’t think that it delivers the quality of exercise that most people attribute to it.

    Personally, I’ve re-categorized walking: I have moved it off my list of what qualifies as exercise. According to my electronic dictionary on my Mac, exercise is an “activity requiring physical effort, carried out esp. to sustain or improve health and fitness.” The way I walk and the way most people walk doesn’t do much for fitness because it usually isn’t vigorous enough. I now consider walking a rehab and mental health activity--a wellness activity--not a fitness activity.

    For the last  4 or 5 years we’ve pressed ourselves to walk about 2 hours a day if we weren’t biking or getting other exercise. We pushed to keep up the tempo and counted it as exercise. But for us, walking now registers as a potential time waster: we shouldn’t be commuting on foot but instead using faster transportation so we have more time in our day for substantiative exercise.

    A part of me feels duped: I thought walking counted as exercise for me, but doesn’t, regardless of what the experts promote. Using a heart rate monitor this year convinced me that I can’t get my heart rate up anywhere close to an authentic cardio workout unless I’m going at a good clip up a steep hill--I just can’t get the rates I need on the flats. But I count myself among the lucky ones because walking was only a small part of my fitness program whereas for many people walking is their primary effort to achieve aerobic fitness.

    Of course, walking has many excellent attributes. Walking can be a significant workout for those recovering from injury, illness, or surgery and it is at the limit of what some people should do in the early stages of developing a fitness regime. But for all of those well-meaning folks who get out there almost every day and walk 30 minutes because they think it is enough exercise to be fit, it’s a sham.

I need steep slopes to make walking count as fitness exercise.

    To add insult to injury, it’s beginning to look like the gold standard, the 30 minute target for exercise, is also inadequate for a fitness workout. Research is mounting suggesting that it takes 45 minutes of vigorous exercise to get weight control and other significant benefits from a workout. Of course, anything is better than nothing, but all of those people who have been dutifully walking for 30 minutes and calling it a workout have been misguided--they need to increase both the amount of time spent and the intensity of their exertion for significant weight control and fitness.

    Many years ago I read a medical study proposing that good health required 90 minutes to 2 hours of exercise a day, so those numbers, not 30 minutes, have been our target.  Our current targets also include 3 or more workouts a week of a minimum of 45 minutes of high quality CV effort, so at least we weren’t duped by the 30 minute standard. Over 10 years ago I compared my fitness with that of friends who were following the 30 minute rule and decided that what they were doing wasn’t enough--now the medical research is beginning to support that observation.

    “How could so many be so wrong” and “Why aren’t these recommendations correct” are logical questions to ask for which I have no definitive answer. But the first thing that comes to mind is that public health recommendations are often a compromise between the medical research and what the officials think will sell with the public. Personally, I’d rather have the unedited information, but that isn’t usually what is put forth.  I suspect that the public health policy focus has been on getting people off the couch and heading towards the front door instead of towards the refrigerator door without triggering hopelessness. That policy serves the sedentary but is a disservice to those who think they are optimizing their fitness by following the frequently touted guidelines.

“Physiological Plasticity”

    Perhaps the tides have been turning for some time but 2011 was the year that we noticed that the medical research about older athletes had taken a decidedly more upbeat tone. One study looking at marathoners concluded that age didn’t really matter all that much and declared ‘older athletes maintain a high degree of physiological plasticity late into life.’ Positively makes me tingle: physiological plasticity.  It’s gotta be a good thing.

    Research on muscles, mitochondria and other minutia all are telling the same story: aging doesn’t have to affect performance as much as anyone thought in the past. One reason the previous conclusions had been wrong was that the older studies on aging were done on sedentary seniors; now that they are actually studying senior athletes, the conclusions are entirely different.

Coping With Cracked Skin

    In 2011 Bill learned of 2 new remedies for dealing with the nasty effects of 15% humidity on his feet and hands--ultra-low humidity that is common in the US SW. Amlactin was a product recommended by our dermatologist for his deeply cracked heels and it works like a charm if used regularly. Unfortunately, it’s a hard product to locate in the stores. Bill gets relief the first day of use although it take a couple of weeks of daily application to transform severely damaged tissue into normal looking skin.

Nitrile gloves are Bill’s secret weapon against low humidity.

    Next to Bill, I feel like a throw-back: my perpetually soggy feet haven’t come to terms with our ancestors leaving the sea millions of years ago and they keep recreating a swampy environment for themselves. I always considered my moist feet a liability because their dampness makes them prone to becoming chilled but I’ve learned that they are a gift in low humidity regions.

    However, we both are vulnerable to splitting skin around our thumb nails in the very dry air though Bill’s splits aren’t confined to a single spot on each thumb like mine are. His newly discovered, easy remedy for the severe chaffing and splitting on his hands has been wearing nitrile work gloves a few hours each day when driving or hiking.

    We each picked-up a pair of these $5 gloves in the gardening department of Fred Meyer’s thinking that they might be useful for nasty chores around the truck and camper. They are knit gloves that have been partially dipped in rubbery nitrile which gives a waterproof and tacky gripping surface on the palm side of the hand but leaves a breathable surface open on the back of the hand. It’s the perfect combination for a general utility glove. (The latex versions are slightly more supple but we favor nitrile in deference to my latex allergy.) The nitrile holds in the moisture around each of the fingertips, giving the most vulnerable skin a chance to rehydrate. The gloves are a delightfully cheap and a simple solution to his vexing dry-hands problem.

That’s It For 2011   

    Whew! 2011 was quite a head-spinning year for us. We keep thinking that our health and diet routines are sufficiently refined that we should be able to coast for awhile, and then we read something new. 2012 is upon us so I guess we’d best clear some space in our minds for some new surprises.