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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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.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Return of the Bookworm

Image result for bookwormAfter last week's Fox News overload, my brain needed a bit of a vacation. And for me, few things say "relaxing brain time" more than curling up with a good book. But I'm sorry to admit that I've gotten out of the habit of prioritizing reading time. Because it feels like a guilty pleasure, I'll leave it until after the chores and obligations are done. And often then, I don't even get to it, because I am perhaps only slightly more immune to Netflix than the average person. And, of course, I like to leave time for my own writing, too, since that is one of my raisons d'etre.

This week, I tapped my inner child on the shoulder and said, "Hey, remind me how we always used to have our nose in a book." She ignored me--she was reading, after all--but just knowing she is alive and well was enough to inspire me. And I'm so glad it did, because I really, really enjoyed my reading time. I pulled out my purely-for-fun library book in the evenings, and on Saturday and Sunday morning--in bed, naturally, because that is the best place ever to read. (During the day. At night, it makes me too sleepy.)

But now that I am an allegedly grown-up woman, it's much harder for me to put my guilt feelings about not being "productive" aside and just read. I had to keep reminding myself that reading has as many, if not more, benefits as, say, doing laundry. Take, for example, this Emory University study from a few years back (as reported in Psychology Today):

In the study, titled “Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain," researchers found that "becoming engrossed in a novel enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function. Interestingly, reading fiction was found to improve the reader's ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes and flex the imagination in a way that is similar to the visualization of a muscle memory in sports."
Add in some of the other benefits of reading--including mental stimulation, improved vocabulary, lower stress, improved mood, increased empathy and emotional intelligence--and laundry doesn't really stand a chance. (Except that clean underwear thing is pretty important.)

This week is a Take It, and I hope I've inspired you to put down your phone and pick up a book just for the fun of it.

 Image result for reading meme