Wednesday, February 27, 2019

When TED Talks, People Listen


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This TED...
Hello and happy Wednesday! Considering the adversarial, and often downright ugly, tone of the news these days, it's easy to forget that the world is full of people who know and do interesting things and are willing to share them with the rest of us. I reminded myself of this last week when I decided to watch a daily TED talk.

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Not this Ted.

If you are unfamiliar with TED, here's what the website says about their organization:
TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.
TED has also expanded to include the TED Radio Hour, TED Masterclasses, the TED mobile app, and TED-ED animations, which are short, fun videos that use fun graphics and music to explain a variety of science and lifestyle topics.

Other than catching snippets of the TED Radio Hour in my car, I've been in a TED-free zone for quite some time. It's one of those things I tell myself I should do more of--"Hey, self, you should watch more TED talks!"--but then I never actually do it. So I was grateful for my Take It or Leave It kick in the pants, because I really enjoyed my daily dose of TED.

I learned, among other things, about the physics of bubbles, the science behind human organ regeneration, and how dog noses work. I was inspired to re-think my personal narrative and persevere in the face of failure. I got some tips on how to get better at the things that really matter to me. I listened to a guy talk about how he tried something new every 30 days, which confirmed to me that small changes in our lives are much more sustainable. Last but not least, I watched a semi-compelling animation about why humans should eat more insects. (Bugs look much more appetizing in cartoon form, I must say.)

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Many of the TED talks are quite short, and there was no need to devote hours and hours to broadening my world view. But once I got started, it was easy to just keep watching. All in all, this week of TED has been one of my favorite new activities, which makes this Take It or Leave It a definite Take It.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

5-Letter Word for a Rectangular Board

Unless you've been living in a fitness blackout zone (I honestly don't blame you if you are; no judgment here), you've heard how important strong core muscles are. Because I often feel like I have the core fitness of a mushy apple, I decided to try a week of planking. Note that I'm referring to the exercise, not the weird fad of lying face-down in unusual places. (Apparently, that is also called the Lying Down Game, which sounds like something invented by the desperate parent of a toddler who will...not...nap.)

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Planking: the fad 
The internet is full of planking challenges, but mine was short and simple: three planks a day. I started with thirty seconds per plank on the first day, which didn't seem quite painful enough, and finally settled on a minute. Other than the occasional forearm plank, I didn't change up my form. No side plank, stability ball plank, reverse plank, or walking the plank. (A little pirate humor for you, arrr.)

In general, I am not averse to strength training exercises, but I discovered over the course of the week that I don't really enjoy planking. Sometimes my wrists hurt. Sometimes my back complained. Sometimes my dog came to see what I was doing and licked my face. Every single time I planked, I was glad when the minute was over. I could, however, feel all the muscles engaging as they are supposed to, so I'm sure planking is good for me even though I kind of hate it.
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Planking: the cat

Now I must decide: take it or leave it? According to the internet, the benefits of daily planking include increased strength and flexibility, improved posture, decreased risk of spinal injury, better balance, and a boost in metabolism. I could use all those things. So I guess this week's Take It or Leave It is a grudging Take It.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Once Upon a Time...

...there was a little girl who loved reading fairy tales. She had a two-volume set of Grimm's, one book blue and one red. As time went by, she lost track of those books. Fast-forward a few (okay, many) years, and that grown-up girl happened to come across one of the same books in a second-hand store. She bought it, because eight bucks is not bad for a big dose of nostalgia. In reading through it, she remembered a) how much she loved fairy tales, and b) she had bought a complete Grimm's Fairy Tales from Barnes and Noble a while back for next to nothing, and that big book was just hanging out in her stack, waiting to be rediscovered. So the next week's Take It or Leave It was born...

I read (at least) one fairy tale every day for a week, and I think I've identified what it is about them that captivates me: the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm are flippin' nuts. I mean, just absolutely wacko. Yes, they are full of deep symbolism and archetypes--witches, roses, mirrors, tricksters, and so on--but they're also like the craziest fever dreams a person could have. Talking animals? Of course--and also trees, streams, rocks, and bones. Glass mountains that open up and swallow whoever or whatever happens to be near? Yes, sir. A guy the size of a thumb? Sure, why not. Children made entirely out of gold? Got 'em. Well, how about a child who is a hedgehog on top and a human boy on the bottom? Him, too.

And don't forget all the scheming, double-crossing, lying, homicide, wisdom and stupidity, patience and haste, laziness and industriousness, dying and resurrection, sinning and redemption. So many themes. So many lessons and cautionary tales. So much potential for creative inspiration.

I'm glad I spent the week getting reacquainted with Grimm's tales and will continue to read through them, including the great Philip Pullman's Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm. For now, I'll leave you with the first two lines from a story called Fitcher's Bird, which stopped me short:

There was once a wizard who used to take the form of a poor man, and went to houses and begged, and caught pretty girls. No one knew whither he carried them, for they were never seen more.

Sweet dreams!

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

My Siesta Fiesta

In many countries--Spain, Mexico, the Philippines, Italy, Nigeria, and more--the afternoon nap is an integral part of the day...and an opportunity to get out of the heat. In America, we've come a ways since the Seinfeld episode when George Costanza had to curl up under his desk to get some shuteye. But we still haven't gone all in on this napping thing. Kids, sure. Adults, though? It seems lazy and unproductive, two things we Americans like to pretend we hate (when in actuality, we enjoy lying down and putting up our feet as much as the rest of the world does, gosh darn it). Plus, we're absolute lunatics about air conditioning, so escaping the heat isn't a problem.

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The science suggests America would be well-suited to adopt the siesta culture. A power nap (around 20 minutes) can boost creativity, productivity, problem-solving, reasoning, and learning. Napping three times a week has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Plus, the general reduction in stress can make us happier and, one would imagine, more pleasant to be around.

I am always tired when mid-afternoon rolls around, so for my Take It or Leave It this week, I decided to try a daily nap. In the interest of being consistent, I set a couple of ground rules: I would lie down at the same time every day, and I wasn't allowed to read or look at my phone. Just set a timer, close my eyes, and hopefully catch some winks.

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Honestly, I thought I was going to crush this napping thing. After all, I've been known to fall asleep in class, in cars, in movies, in airplanes... But I struggled with the planned nap. On Saturday, I forgot about it altogether. Out of the other six days, I had only two where I felt like the nap did all those magical things for me that naps are supposed to do. On the other four days, I woke up feeling just as tired as I was before, but with the added bonus of also being grouchy.

Even though this week wasn't terribly successful, I'm not quite ready to throw in the nap towel. In fact, I feel challenged now to figure out what constitutes a perfect nap for me. To start, I think I'll shoot for the thrice-weekly siesta and maybe even check into one of the "power nap" apps that I only now discovered exist.

I guess that means this week's Take It or Leave It is a little bit of both.

Happy napping!