Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Year-End Supercut

Image result for animated calendar gifWow! Happy New Year! I can't believe it's the end of my 2019 Take It or Leave It Challenge--let alone the end of a decade. Don't get me started on how time flies. 2020? Really?

For the last week of the challenge, I tried putting the pieces together for a supercut of this year's Take Its. Bullet journaling and planking, remember those? And balancing on one foot, reading fairy tales, dry brushing, and drinking all that water? Yeah, I barely remember them, too. Though I tried to keep up, I found myself getting farther behind the Take It 8-ball as the weeks progressed. (And I wasn't so great with all the Leave Its, either.)

Which brings me to the two big lessons I learned this year: 1) even small changes can have big effects, and 2) I need more than one week to turn those small changes into habits. There is a common claim in popular culture that it takes 21 days for a behavior to become habit, but the research doesn't back it up. For instance, a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it can take anywhere from 18-254 days for a person to form a new habit, with the average being 66 days. Some habits are easier to make/break than others, and some people are just better at it.

This week was a good reminder of all the little life tweaks I enjoyed discovering this year. But with the craziness of the Christmas holiday, it was also pretty much the worst week to try pull it all together. So in the interest of giving myself a fair shot, I decided to extend my supercut for one week. It seems only fitting, as January is prime time for goals and resolutions and all that good stuff.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by this year! I hope you'll continue to visit in 2020. And I wish you a great start to a year--no, a decade--full of health, happiness, and prosperity!

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Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Semi-Random Acts of Kindness

I'm pressed for time these last few days before Christmas, which is what usually happens to me despite my best intentions. So this post will be short and sweet. This week, I decided to take advantage of all the goodwill in the air and perform daily acts of kindness, which weren't planned much in advance (because I'm not that organized) but also weren't exactly random. Hence the "semi."

Here's the list: I quit procrastinating and finally made a donation to an environmental charity I support. I made room in my schedule to take my mom to get a haircut and go to lunch. I slipped a $10 bill in the Salvation Army kettle instead of my usual single. I dropped off dog toys at a local pet shelter. I sent a gift card to a young man I've never met who goes to the same university as my boys and has been diagnosed with cancer. And I took a plastic bag with me on my dog walk so I could pick up trash along the way.

Nothing earth-shattering, but we shouldn't underestimate the power of small things. This week is a Take It.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Glad Tidings to all!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Sugarplums? Bah Humbug!

Image result for ebenezer scroogeThis week's Take It or Leave It challenge is one I've been putting off all year long: removing added sugars from my diet. I like to think that I eat considerably less sugar than the staggering 57 pounds an average American consumes in a year. (That's 17 teaspoons every day, if you're interested.) But honestly, I'm probably just sneaky about it. I'm not a soda drinker, but I do have a sweet tooth and have been known to eat dessert after breakfast. And occasionally for breakfast.

Every week this year, I've had an excuse not to make it the no-sugar week. I was busy or tired or on vacation or Valentine's Day/Easter/Halloween was coming, or whatever. The closest I came was my week without chocolate. (And because of my procrastination and poor planning, I've now temporarily given up chocolate twice this year.) But with the year winding down and December 25th approaching, my options were limited. Even I'm not masochist enough to try cut out sugar on Christmas.

Image result for buddy the elf four main food groupsMy ground rule was no added sugar of any kind, and boy does sugar use a lot of aliases. According to the University of California San Francisco SugarScience team, dietary sugar is known by at least 61 different names--including maltodextrin, which is in almost everything. I also swore off "natural" substitutes such as honey and maple syrup.

Fruit was a little trickier. I don't drink fruit juice as a rule, and I decided that a couple of pieces of whole fruit a day was completely acceptable. Dates, though? They're relatively high in fiber and potassium, but they're also basically made of sugar. In the end, I let them stay, in very limited quantities.

I discovered that cutting out foods that taste sweet doesn't come close to eliminating added sugars. Even plain Rice Chex have both sugar and molasses in them. I found sugar in salty chips and spice blends, in spicy salsas and hot sauces. In bread. In frozen fruit bars that at first glance look like they're made of only fruit.

So, no shocker here, I didn't love this week. I was acutely aware that everywhere I went, I was surrounded by treats (and Christmas music) on all sides. But, I made it. (Almost. I confess I did eat sushi once, and I know sushi rice is cooked with sugar.) I probably wouldn't have survived, though, without stevia in my tea and my half a Larabar per day.

This was never going to be a Take It, but it didn't hurt to become more conscious of my sugar consumption, especially during sugarplum (and candy cane, fudge, cookie, marshmallow Santa, and, yes, even fruitcake) season.

Hope your pre-holiday week is merry and bright, with a bit of chocolate thrown in for good measure!

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.
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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!

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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.

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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.

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