Wednesday, December 11, 2019

It's Not All Phone and Games

Image result for solitaireI've always been a little smug about the fact that I'm not the kind of person who can sit around and play video games for an hour. But I apparently have become the kind of person who can sit around and play games for an hour on her phone--in twelve minute increments. I'm kidding myself with that work-around. The rules of time are pretty unambiguous: one hour = one hour, no matter how you spend it.

Angry birds or crushed candies aren't my thing. I'm all about the card games, of which there are more than enough in the app store to last a lifetime. Someone just keeps inventing different ways to play solitaire. (In an alternate reality, that would probably be my dream job.) I wonder if the folks at Microsoft, who introduced computer solitaire in 1990 as a fun way to teach people how to use a mouse, had any idea how insanely popular the game, and its many offspring, would become. 

This week, I said no to those nefarious time-wasters and their come-hither sound of shuffling decks, their daily challenges, their celebratory animations after a win. I said no to the quick card breaks between chores and tasks and errands. I said no to one more game before lights out. I said no, no, no.

And I discovered something better to fill that gap: pretty much anything. Leaf through a magazine, read a few pages of a book, strum the ukulele, wipe some crumbs off the kitchen counter. This year of Take It or Leave It--which I can't believe is rapidly drawing to a close--has really been all about managing habits. Trying to make good ones and break bad ones. In all honesty, a week isn't long enough to make or break a habit. But it is long enough to shine a light on it and do some evaluating.
Image result for solitaire cartoon
Did I miss the card games? I did. And at the end of the week, when I deleted (most of) them, it felt a little weird. I'm not saying I'll never play another game of phone solitaire, so I suppose this week isn't a true Take It. But those games are going to be much fewer and farther between.

Now it's time for me to shuffle on out of here. Have a great week, and I'll see you next Wednesday!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Gee, Thanks!

Image result for thanksgiving table creative commonsWith last week being Thanksgiving week here in the states, I thought it was a good time to focus on gratitude. I like to think that in general, I'm a pretty grateful person. When I get more green lights than red, or an item I need from the store is unexpectedly on sale, I usually feel a little flicker of gratitude. But I'm not really sure I have built it solidly into my daily life. Sometimes, it's barely more than a mental blip as I move from one thing to the next.

True gratitude is more than saying thank you when someone holds a door--although good manners are a great place to start. According to world-renowned gratitude guru Robert Emmons, gratitude has two important parts: the affirmation of goodness, and the recognition that the goodness comes from outside our selves. “I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion,“ he writes, “because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”

Researchers who study the effects of gratitude credit the practice with:
  • Improved physical health, such as fewer aches and pains;
  • Improved psychological health via the reduction of toxic emotions;
  • Better sleep, empathy and self-esteem
  • Less anger, aggression, and anxiety. 
The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley reports that writing in a gratitude journal three times a week has significant positive effects. I did it every day last week, and my only rules were that I had to write five things each day, and I couldn't use the same one twice. Occasionally, that stumped me, because I am grateful every day for things such as family and health. So I had to dig a little deeper and include the small (I got my aunt's Thanksgiving card mailed on time, for example) with the large (no one got hit by space debris). This isn't a very elegant analogy, but I discovered that gratitude is kind of like lint--the more you look for it, the more you will find. But unlike lint, it makes life better!

I will definitely keep this one as a Take It. For anyone who's interested in starting gratitude journal practice, I suggest taking a look at the GGSC's 9 tips.

Thank you for stopping by, and happy December!

Image result for thank you"

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Thinking Man's Violin

Image result for ukuleleAs if I needed more reason to love my local library district, they are now offering a "gadgets and things" collection for check-out. Need a cake pan in the shape of a train? Or a birdwatching kit? Or a day pass to the the local discovery museum? If you have a library card, these things and more can be yours for free, at least on a temporary basis.

That's how I came to have a ukulele in my possession this week. Over the last few years, as ukulele music has become more mainstream, I've wondered if I might like to try it. Other than violin in junior high and high school, I don't have much experience with string instruments. But the ukulele seemed accessible. And happy. And fun!

(Full disclosure: as a child, I did have a cheap plastic ukulele with a hula dancer on it. I don't exactly remember the circumstances, but one time my older sister and I got in a fight, and I hit her over the head with the ukulele and broke it. The ukulele, not her head. She and I are very close as adults, so I assume all has been forgiven.)

After a week of ukulele practice, I can tell you that it indeed accessible and happy and fun. It is also--as are so many things--a bit harder than it looks. But I'm getting ahead of myself. For lessons on how to get started, I turned to YouTube, home of tutorials of all kinds, from installing a toilet to flying a kite and everything in between. I tried a few and ended up watching a very pleasant and knowledgeable British guy called Guitar Andy (*oops, sorry, it's Andy Guitar).

I won't bore you with the blow-by-blow. Suffice it to say that I learned a few chords and I learned a few strums. But I also discovered that much of that fun, happy ukulele music moves really fast. Guitar Andy made the chord changes look so easy, but my fingers have a lot of work to do to get there. (Judging from the comments below the videos, I'm not the only one.) The other thing about ukulele music is that the person playing usually sings along. Hmmm...trying to put my fingers in the right positions while simultaneously getting my dubious voice in tune? That's not likely to happen any time soon.

All in all though, this was a fun week, and since I don't have to return the ukulele for another 14 days, I think I'll keep at it. By then, I should be able to decide if this is a long-term Take It.


Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Wrong Combination

Thanks to some kind of insidious algorithm, my social media feeds are always giving me weird dietary suggestions. Apparently now, we're putting mushroom powder into things...? Anyway, food trends are nothing new, and there's been a big one hanging around for more than thirty years, since the book Fit for Life hit the shelves in 1985. I'm referring to the concept of food combining--the belief that eating certain foods together impedes digestion and pH balance, resulting in less-than-optimal wellness.

Image result for food
Food combining is one of those ideas that has been pretty soundly debunked by science but has lots of anecdotal support. Here are the basic guidelines:
  • Fruit should be eaten alone, on an empty stomach, 15-30 minutes before other foods.
  • Starches may be consumed with all raw and cooked vegetables.
  • Animal proteins should be paired with non-starchy vegetables only.
Some plans get even more specific:
  • Do not eat carbohydrates with acids such as citrus or tomatoes.
  • Do not combine protein sources. Sorry, no surf and turf or cheesy omelettes.
  • Proteins should not be consumed with fats. One of the examples is not to eat oil with nuts. Wait, what? Nuts are basically oil.
  • Melons should not be eaten with any other foods.
I tried food combining this week, and I'm not a convert. Even stripped down to the easiest rules, it was more challenging than my vegan week--probably because, unlike veganism, I just couldn't buy into the principles behind food combining. It was also inconvenient and a little stressful, neither of which results in enjoyable mealtimes.

Science seems pretty clear that humans evolved as opportunistic omnivores capable of digesting "mixed meals" on a regular basis. As for the people who swear by food combining, perhaps part of their success comes from an overall healthier diet and more mindful eating. 

For improved digestion, the general consensus is that we should all eat more slowly, eat less, and eat fewer processed foods, especially sugar and damaged fats. And not worry about eating an apple on an empty stomach.

This week is a Leave It.

Image result for marge simpson food meme

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Finer Things

The holidays are fast approaching, and for many of us, that means a seasonal return to family traditions. Some of them may be great, some may be less so (fruitcake, anyone?), but they're all special when they're a part of a family's particular culture.

Holidays are also a perfect time for things that get handed down: stories, for example, and genetic predispositions. And dishes. The kinds of dishes that get used once or twice a year because, like orchids, they are pretty but particular. These are not the kinds of dishes that go from freezer to oven to table without breaking a sweat. And microwave or dishwasher? Perish the thought.

There are people who believe that fancy things shouldn't be saved for fancy occasions. They should be integrated into daily life so we can better love and appreciate them. I'm not typically one of those people. In fact, I really do have a tendency to save things for what feels like the perfect moment--knowing full well that sometimes, the moment doesn't come. I may have gotten this from my maternal grandmother. I remember once seeing a box of petit fours in her refrigerator. I really wanted one of those beautiful little cakes, but she had saved them so long, they were inedible. 

This week, I made a point of using, and enjoying, dishes and silver that came to me from my family and my husband's. I drank my afternoon matcha latte from a gilded china cup and ate my meals from a variety of equally pretty, and impractical, bowls and plates. 

The best part was being reminded of the people who used these things before me. Even if I didn't know them personally, I have seen enough pictures and heard enough anecdotes to feel the family connection. It really made mealtime feel more contemplative and deliberate in a good way.

The downside was the convenience, or lack of it. From hand-washing to avoiding the microwave, these dishes needed more TLC than I'm used to. And frankly, I still feel that using special things on ordinary occasions makes them less special. I guess I'm set in my belief that there is a time and a place for everything, which probably explains why I don't like year-round Christmas stores, either.

This week is a Leave It. But I'll see that silverware again soon, around my holiday dinner table.