Wednesday, October 16, 2019

1 Week = 7 'Grams

This is no big secret, but I struggle with social media. Trying to use it to my advantage seems uncomfortably self-serving, and the existence of tween-aged multimillionaire "influencers" baffles me.  If it all disappeared tomorrow, I would #notmissitonebit.

Having said that, I was compelled to set up an Instagram account in June so I could see what son #2's teacher was posting during their school trip to Germany.  But I myself never posted, not then or in the weeks after. I occasionally thought about it, and then...meh. 

"You have to post," my son told me. "Or people will think you're a bot." Well, in my defense, turning into an internet bot sounds like a great premise for a science fiction story, but I saw his point. So last week, I made up my mind to post one picture each day. 

I did, and here they are:

Ornamental grasses

Me shadow, tree shadow


A study in primary colors

Hunter moonrise

"Drafty" in here

Milkweed Monday

Nothing spectacular, but at least I finally got my feet wet. I anticipate that I will continue to post on occasion, so this is technically a Take It. And if you'd like to see what those future posts look like, you can find me on the 'gram as jensunwriter.

Happy Wednesday! 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Punchy McPunch Face

One of the fun things about having sons is ending up with all kinds of gadgets and gear around the house that my sister and I never had as kids. We played wild west and had pocket knives, but our toys skewed pretty heavily to Barbie dolls, baby dolls, ballerina get the picture. We didn't have superheroes or Nerf guns. Or a punching bag.

It's been a few years now, and I don't quite remember how the Everlast 60-pound punching bag came to be a permanent resident in my home. One of the boys probably suggested it sounded like fun, and my husband is always game for a trip to the sporting goods store. It got semi-regular use for a while, but with both boys in college, it now hangs in the basement of my empty nest, largely neglected.

Strapping on cartoonishly large red gloves and flailing away isn't something I'd be keen to do in public, but safely away from interested onlookers, I felt brave enough to give it a try. After the briefest of online tutorials, I was ready to give it ago. As long as I didn't hurt myself, I figured the rest didn't really matter. It's not like I was going for style points.

I started with 5 minutes the first day and added a minute each day after. At first, I was little stiff the next morning, but that didn't last very long. And it also didn't take long for me to learn that it's fun to punch something that doesn't punch back. It's great stress relief, is good for balance, and builds muscle and bone strength, all of which are important things at this point in my life.

Image result for rocky the squirrelIt goes without saying, but punching the heavy bag for a week didn't turn me into Rocky Balboa. It didn't even turn me into Rocky the Squirrel. My footwork is terrible, and my endurance has a ways to go. But it was surprisingly enjoyable, and that makes this week a Take It.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Hamlet was talking about death, but thank goodness I'm referring to regular old garden-variety sleep. Catching some z's. Forty winks. Although the ideal amount of sleep varies from person to person, the general consensus is that regular, quality sleep is crucial for good health. Well-rested people get sick less often, think more clearly, and may manage their weight better.

Image result for sleepHmmm...if only there were a way to use technology to micromanage something we humans have been doing naturally for thousands of years...

Oh, yeah. There's an app for that. Actually, there are plenty of apps for that. It seems somewhat ironic that the same technology that robs us of sleep can allegedly help us improve it, but that's kind of how we do things these days.

This week, as you may have gathered, I experimented with a sleep-monitoring app. I don't have a fitness tracker right now, so my app was not connected to a wearable that could directly measure my nocturnal thrashings. It also did not record snoring, make me a cup of hot milk, or influence how often I dreamed about taking a test I hadn't studied for.

Instead, my phone sat on a spot higher than the edge of the mattress (thank you, bedside stack of books), where it sent out little sonar blips during the night that were somehow able to gauge the quality and quantity of my sleep. Yes, the same technology that maps the ocean floor can also apparently map the depths of a person's slumber. Who knew?

In the morning, the app generated a short report detailing sleep duration, time to fall asleep, light sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep, and wake time. That was all kind of interesting, but I'm not convinced it was accurate, especially when I got a message that "something" may have interfered with the app's function. Darn you, rogue pillow!

After a week, I can confidently say that a sleep tracking app is not for me at this point in my life. I don't need more reasons to mess with my phone, and, as it turns out, I am entirely capable of determining on my own whether I've had a good night or a bad night. This one is a Leave It, but you might have a different experience. Regardless, I wish you good sleep and sweet dreams!

tired dog days GIF

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Radio Silence

Image result for radioWelcome to another Wednesday here at the Take It or Leave It challenge! After last week's extra podcast listening, I decided to flip the script this week and give my ears a rest. I'm a big fan of background music and almost always have it playing at home, at work, and in my car. I like many different musical genres, so it often doesn't matter what makes up the soundtrack of my day. But there's always something.

Until I turned it all off.

On the drive to work that first morning, which takes a whole twelve minutes, I feared I had made a terrible mistake. Without public radio, I had nothing to distract me from the annoying rattle coming from somewhere in my car. One of the first things I do when I get to my desk is choose the music I will stream for the day. Instead, I gritted my teeth at the sound of the fluorescent lights buzzing overhead. Were they always that loud, or had I spontaneously developed some kind of Jaime Sommers bionic woman hearing?

At home, things were no easier. Cooking and eating without jazz music in the background is a lot less fun. And I don't know if this is weird, but I always wake up with a song in my head. Sometimes, it's a song I like. Sometimes, it's Wham's "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go". There's no rhyme or reason to it. Without a new song to take its place, I was stuck with the bad song earworm for much longer than I wanted.

That's how most of the week went: me being hyper-aware of sounds I usually don't even acknowledge. And I also found out that there is such as thing as having too much time alone with one's thoughts. Well, maybe not for Bill Gates. But definitely for me. I confess that I had many moments where I almost lost my resolve and turned on some damn music already.

But I made it through seven full days of radio silence. Surprisingly, things got easier by the end, and I actually began to appreciate (some of) my silent moments. And various studies suggest that silence lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity, promotes brain cell growth in the hippocampus, regulates hormones, prevents arterial plaque formation, and decreases stress (even more than listening to music!).

Well, that's some food for thought. I know this week can't possibly be a Take It, because listening to music makes me happy. But I will make a point to be more mindful of silence and fit it into my day on a regular basis.

And now, for some throwback weirdness, here's Thomas Dolby's "Radio Silence". So very 1982.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Invasion of the Pod(cast) People

Image result for podcastBack in the days before television--and definitely before my time--families used to gather around the old wireless radio for their nightly entertainment. From Little Orphan Annie to the Metropolitan Opera to the infamous War of the Worlds, there was something for everyone. Today, in the digital age, we can stream television content anywhere, anytime. And we do. But apparently we still love to listen to great stories, because podcasts are huge.

As of June of this year, the running total of podcasts is 750,000 and climbing, which adds up to more than 30 million individual episodes. Wow. And I thought finding something to watch on Netflix was hard.

Even though I sort of failed at audio books a few weeks ago, I wanted to give daily podcasts a whirl. I've dabbled in podcasts before, but not on a regular basis. So this week I dipped my toe into the Amazon River-sized stream of audio content and discovered variety that puts even the golden age of radio to shame. Despite that vast quantity of podcasts, it didn't take me long to narrow down my preferences:

Sports: No thanks. I don't mind watching, but listening to people talk about sports? No, no, a thousand times no.

Humor: It depends. Something clever (without an abundance of casual profanity), or the always funny Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, definitely. A couple of guys riffing about beards or whatnot--I'll pass.

Politics: Nope. I get quite enough of that by watching the news.

Science/Nature: Yes, please.

Psychology/Social Science: Another yes. History, too.

True Crime: This is a big one, because they are apparently very popular. I enjoy a good mystery, but if I start to feel like someone might be creeping around in the bushes outside, then that's not the podcast for me.

In general, the best podcasts follow the rules for good storytelling: they draw the listener in quickly, they build suspense and/or interest, and they don't waste time with a lot of extraneous details. It is not as easy as it might seem, but there are plenty of podcasts doing it very well. This week is a Take It, and if you have any podcasts to recommend, please leave me a comment! Happy listening!

Image result for podcast
Get your ears ready!

Friday, September 13, 2019


Image result for earthYou know how the noun friend has given rise to the verb friending? Ditto the noun earth. Earthing, or grounding, is the idea that by putting our bare feet in contact with the earth, our bodies are thus "plugged in" and able to absorb electrical charges that are potentially beneficial.  Here's a more science-y explanation from the "Journal of Environmental and Public Health":
"The Earth’s negative charges can create a stable internal bioelectrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems which may be important for setting the biological clock, regulating circadian rhythms and balancing cortisol levels."
Supposedly, this can help reduce inflammation and stress hormones, improve sleep, boost energy, and lower pain. 

Okay. Well.

I understand that the human body produces quite a lot of electrical activity, and so does the earth. And I also know that for millennia, humans walked around barefoot. Simply being outside has benefits that include better mood and increased vitamin D production. So I had no problem with the idea of spending time outdoors without my shoes on.

Sedona, AZ
I started my earthing/grounding week in Sedona, Arizona, which, if you don't know, has quite an alternative culture that includes energy vortexes, crystals, healers, psychics, aura photography, and $17 dollar smoothies. (No joke, I paid almost $20 for a blueberry and kale smoothie.)

The first morning, my husband and I decided on a sunrise hike. I wore my shoes on the way up, because pointy rocks, but when we arrived at the top, I took them off and sat with my bare feet on the red Arizona sandstone. It was a nice experience, but it was probably equally nice for all the other people who had their shoes on.

Throughout the week, I also earthed at a river, in a garden, in a hot spring, and on my patio. (Frankly,  I was pretty proud of my diverse earthing locations.) The tougher part was determining if it improved my well-being. I was on vacation for much of the time, and it's tough to beat that for a mood booster.  So I don't know if I buy into earthing or not. But anything that gets me outside and connected to nature is a good thing. Plus, I tend to walk around barefoot a lot, anyway.

Oak Creek, AZ
So I think I'll keep at it, at least until the cold weather arrives, which makes this week's experiment a seasonal Take It.

Happy Friday the 13th! Don't walk under any ladders today!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Chocolate Wars

Image result for chocolateWelcome to the post in which I tell the (not at all) heartbreaking tale of how I bid a temporary farewell to one of the loves of my life: chocolate.

Keep your jelly beans, your saltwater taffy, your gummy worms. In my book, any candy that isn't chocolate really isn't worth it. And those others certainly don't have dark chocolate's benefits, which include heart-healthy flavanols, improved cholesterol profiles, and the release of mood-boosting endorphins. (Granted, some of those studies were observational, but chocolate has been spreading good vibes since the days of the Mayans, so it has definitely outlived the "health fad" stage.)

As they say, however, too much of a good thing... Well, I don't exactly know how the rest of the saying goes, but I'm sure it's cautionary in nature.

Image result for mayan chocolateI had noticed as of late that my chocolate consumption was on the increase. I won't say by how much, but I considered getting a t-shirt that reads "Chocolate is My Emotional Support Animal." What better time to test my resolve by committing to a chocolate-free week? As fate would have it (and I blame the Mayan gods for this one), the week coincided with me breaking a tooth and needing to have it pulled.

Perhaps this goes without saying, but I didn't really feel like eating much of anything those first few days, let alone chocolate. And after that short cold-turkey period, avoiding chocolate still wasn't too difficult. I had to make more conscious choices, such as lemon gelato and peanut butter protein bars, but I was relieved to find that I was able to wrestle my self-control away from chocolate. Without the broken tooth, though, who's to say? So maybe I should credit the Mayan gods instead of blaming them. (No, still blaming them.)

Now that the week is over, I'm back to eating chocolate again, but less of it and more mindfully. I knew going in that this would be a Leave It, because there's no way I'm giving up chocolate forever if I don't have to. But it was a good experiment, and I plan to repeat it from time to time, just to show those Mayan gods who's boss.

Check back on Friday for this week's bonus post! Until then, (chocolate) kisses to all!