A Sabbatical For Words

I guess I will blame millennials for this, although Gen X and the Boomers have their own ridiculousnesses. But millennials, that generation which has grown up digitally, with all the rapidity (and often, inanity) of (extreme) short-form communication—texting, tweeting, Facebooking, Snapchatting, blah, blah, blah—seem, to my non-millennial eyes and ears and neurons, to be more synonym-challenged than the two previous “generations”. So, I propose that certain words and phrases take a sabbatical so that the full import of their meanings can, once again, be realized

Oh, there’s an entire crop of words and phrases out there, but I’m going to focus this rant on the two that annoy, irritate, bother me the most: “amazing”, and “passion” (as well as its adjectival form, “passionate”).

AMAZING

So, today, EVERYTHING is amazing. The onion rings at Café Woohoo are AMAZING! My sorority sister Muffin is AMAZING! Last night’s episode of America’s Next Top Voicing with the Stars was AMAZING!

Seriously, people, this constant use of “amazing” is lazy writing at best. The onion rings can be tasty, delicious, the best you’ve ever eaten. Dear Muffin may be sweet, motivated, energetic, delightful. America’s Next Top Voicing with the Stars? Perhaps that episode was stunning, inspiring, transformational. Amazing? Oh, shove a sock in the mouth that utters that descriptor.

Amazing used to mean, well, AMAZING. It was reserved for something truly awe-inspiring, something an order of magnitude larger or better or more vibrant than its runner-up. Amelia Earhart was amazing. A 17-year-old who makes her own vanilla extract is not; she may be resourceful, talented, curious. Maybe as she grows older and her accomplishments add up, maybe then she’ll be amazing, but she isn’t right now. A fully assembled homemade croquembouche, with duck egg créme pâtissière may be amazing. Your breaded pork tenderloin sandwich or your peanut butter cup brownies are not. Your sandwich may be mouthwatering, crispy, even swell. The brownies? They may be decadent, sinful, gooey. Let’s keep “amazing” out of our vocabularies for a year or two or seven. Remember, folks, when EVERYTHING is amazing, NOTHING is amazing.

PASSION, PASSIONATE

Okay, is there any small company or startup that ISN’T passionate about whatever the hell it is they want to do? Is there any resume or CV that DOESN’T mention how passionate the writer is about the environment, teaching, communication, disruption, etc., etc., etc.? Seriously, have you ever read a company blurb stating “we are apathetic about our commitment”? Or a resume with the statement “I am indifferent to this industry”? Nope, didn’t think so.

Please, for the love of God, BUY A THESAURUS! Or at least use the one embedded in Word. You know, right-click, “Synonyms”, then “Thesaurus” (if you don’t like the initial offered suggestions). You are passionate? Then you might be ardent, animated, intense, consumed by. You have a passion for something? Perhaps you are fanatical or enthusiastic. But “passionate”? Talk about a word so overused that it no longer carries a tenth of the intensity of its true or original meaning.

IN SEARCH OF THOUGHTFUL PROSE

We aren’t all Shakespeare here. Hell, even the Bard of Avon himself might not be Shakespeare (Christopher Marlow? Francis Bacon? Did others write some or all of the works attributed to him?) But surely we can find synonyms for some of the hackneyed, overused terms all too prevalent on the headlines of clickbait. So please, for the love of humanity, use your thesaurus in Word (or even better, one of those retro things called “books”, as in Roget’s Thesaurus). Thank you.

And please don’t start me on “veggies”.

Finding Values

What Do I Mean?

In my previous post, I briefly touched on the need to define one’s values (and yes, to live a fully meaningful life, values identification is necessary). I ‘d like to expand on this a bit. Frankly, I think we (the general “we”) don’t pay enough attention to the values that actually resonate with us, selecting, instead, those we think we “should” value. So, when working to clarify what is most important to you, be honest with yourself. If you aren’t, then the values you proclaim to be central to you are mere falsehoods. If independence is more important to you than family, that’s fine. If challenge is more important to you than altruism, then select that. Remember, this list will help you define what is truly most important to you. And with that, you can begin to live a more meaningful life of purpose. Your list is just that–YOUR list. Keep it private if you want (I generally do). Take time with it—it took me weeks, if not months, to narrow down exactly what truly spoke to me. And remember that you can edit your list anytime. What is important to you now may be less so in five or ten years.

And How to Do It

To help get you started, I’m linking to a LONG list of values found at Steve Pavlina’s website (he’s a personal development author). Be forewarned that this is a very extensive list (418 strong!) covering the entire gamut of possible principles (“Fashion” is number 163!). Go through the list and without thinking too much, circle those that really speak to you. In a week or a month or even a year, go back to see which ones are the MOST important to you (while retaining the others of course!)

Why?

I’ve been thinking that maybe we should teach Values Definition to young people; many seem to drift through life aimlessly or with a palpable dullness because they are living according to someone else’s values, perhaps a parent’s or a teacher’s or even those perceived from society in general. But even those of us beyond our teens or twenty-something-hoods could do well to consider a re-think of values. Look at the (many!) people who have retired without purpose, a sad, lost decline spent watching judge shows on television. Compare them to those who have defined that which gives their lives meaning. Perhaps health and fitness ranks high, so they spend time on daily walks or weightlifting at the gym. Maybe giving back is the key for them and volunteering becomes a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Perhaps they’ve now found the time to embrace their inner activist and conducted letter-writing campaigns to politicians (or even run for office themselves!). This would not be possible if they didn’t, on some level, know what they hold dear.

Time for a Conversation?

”Yes” is my answer. I think it’s time for a national conversation. Although I started this work back in January (obviously I didn’t work on it 24/7), the full import of it became apparent after I read Emily Esfahani Smith’s “The Power of Meaning”. And, while a national conversation might be a bit of a pipe dream now, we can certainly discuss this with those close to us if we’d like—our friends, our families, our communities. So, my advice to you is to start working on this—nobody, NOBODY, is getting any younger and the sooner you can define your values, the sooner you can identify or hone your life’s purpose.

We Need to Make Death Alive Again

A Certainty

We don’t talk about aging or death much in this country, given that the former is going to happen to us if we’re lucky and the latter to all of us regardless of our “luck” status. Indeed, in the United States, we try to hide all evidence of both. And while aging is a worthy topic, I’m focusing my post today on death.

Americans Don’t Die

No, we pass (away). Our pets cross the rainbow bridge. We “lose” people. But rarely do we die. Why is that? Why has death become so hidden (or sanitized)? Why have we become afraid of just TALKING about death?

A sad statistic: Approximately 75% of Americans would like to die at home; however, only 25% of them do. Many die intubated, on ventilators, in sterile hospital rooms away from loved ones, no longer living but rather merely existing. I ask you—is this how you really want to go? Is that your vision, your dream for your life’s end? And those reasonably conscious often focus their lives’ conclusions in rumination for a life only partially lived. Surely discussing death—our fears about it (most of us have them), our regrets (most of us have them as well), and our hopes for a life of meaning (again most of us have these too)—could lead to us embracing the life that remains. Facing death opens us to recognizing the value of the time we have and awakens in us an impetus to live according to our own values1.

Discussing Death over Dinner

Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death is a website for a movement to discuss death and take off the veil we’ve placed over it. You invite guests for a meal with the intention of discussing death. The movement suggests some homework as well (somethings to read, watch, and listen to). While I may forego the homework part of it, I find the idea of such a dinner not only philosophically interesting, but potentially liberating. So, I’m now publicly committing to hosting one such event by January 1, 2018. Surely acknowledging the existence of death will allow us to embrace the potentials we all have of more fulfilling and purposeful lives, regardless of our religious or philosophical beliefs.

1 If you haven’t yet defined your most important values, I suggest that you actually do make the time for this. Think about what’s important to you—don’t just list what you think you’re supposed to value to impress someone else.

On Female Friendships

Somewhere, sometime, I read that the strongest familial bonds are the bonds between sisters1. Perhaps, then, the strongest extra-familial bonds are those between good female friends. Even though I have no research to back this up, I do know how true this is in my own personal case (and yes, I know I am a sample size of one, but to me, the most important one). Pity is not an emotion I share regularly, as it often can be condescending or patronizing, but I truly do pity the woman who has no close female friends. And I do mean “friends”, not acquaintances—there is an order of magnitude (or three) of difference between the two. You can go to coffee with the acquaintance, have a fun chat about lipstick or the Pacers or the relative prices of sushi at different restaurants. You can do that with a friend too, but with a friend—a real one—you can talk about your hopes, your dreams, your visions, your regrets. You hug the friend as she’s going through a divorce or a health crisis; she holds your hand as you deal with a painful loss, all the while encouraging you to let it out and let it go. You feel comfortable talking about the uncomfortable with a friend; you wouldn’t even touch anything so raw and personal with an acquaintance.

With respect to female friendships, it’s quality, not quantity, that matters (although having both is like winning the lottery, so yours truly is a double Powerball winner!) I am so grateful to have a plethora of really good, strong, female friends in my life. All are different, another way of saying that there is no single template, no one list of rules, no algorithm to being a good, strong, solid FRIEND. They vary in their religious/spiritual beliefs (or non-beliefs), socioeconomic statuses, geographic locations, ethnic backgrounds, etc. Granted, all are bright, intelligent, thinking women. All are honest and have integrity. And frankly, all are interesting (okay, I have a bit of a prejudice against the uber-ordinary, so I don’t tend to befriend them).

I am so grateful for my good, close female friends. I hope they know that, but in case they don’t, I’ve written this blog post. Girls, you are loved.

1I know that not all sisters have good relationships. I am talking about the general, not the specific.

My Concoction

Or A Look at the Lengths a Slow Cyclist Will Take

Okay, many of you know that I have drastically cut back on sugar (and sugar substitutes) and white flour/potatoes/rice, as well as alcohol, a process that began with Dry February. During Dry February, I did give myself a couple of exceptions—I’d eat what I was served when at a dinner party AND I’d permit myself an caffeinated energy drink and/or energy gels for my weekly endurance workout. I define “endurance workout” as anything lasting longer than an hour (but in practice, anything over 90 minutes). This worked well and come March, I opted to (largely) continue being “dry”. Okay, I DID welcome dark chocolate (≥ 85% cacao content) back. But I also wanted to try exercising without sugar or sweeteners. I mean, I wanted the caffeine (it was the only caffeine I’d ingest each week, save for the miniscule quantities in four small squares of dark chocolate—limit, one per day!—and the residual caffeine in my daily cups of decaf).

30.47 miles (49 km) and 100 mg of caffeine later–yours truly after a gym session on the recumbent bike, on an empty stomach no less

The Story of My Concoction

The short of it—it ain’t tasty, but it works. Before, I’d have anywhere from 80 to 114 mg of caffeine, depending on whether I started with a Clif or GU gel, Hy-Drive energy drink, or Red Bull Zero. Usually I’d eat or drink this after 20 minutes or so of cycling if indoors or immediately before the ride if outdoors. Midway through, I might add another gel (20 to 50 mg of caffeine, plus the carbs for energy). But in the interest of my sugar reduction, I opted to experiment with another way. This also allowed (and continues to allow) me the opportunity to assess the relative importance of caffeine vs. carbohydrates in my endurance diet.1

So, I was looking for something that would give me about 100 mg of caffeine to start with. To put this in perspective, it’s about HALF the amount of caffeine that you’d find in a tall (12 oz.) Starbucks Pike Place Roast, admittedly one of the more caffeinated brands out there. A small (10 oz.) Dunkin Donuts brewed coffee has about 150 mg of caffeine. On the other hand, a cup of Keurig Breakfast Blend has about 75 mg. And your standard brown diner brewed dishwater contains about 95 to 165 mg for 8 ounces. So I’m drinking about the equivalent of a generic cup of coffee. It doesn’t seem like much, but when you subsist of decaf, it’s the equivalent of speed.

So, I started by experimenting with canned Trader Joe’s cold brew. I was FLYING! Some cursory Google research revealed that cold brew usually has more caffeine than hot brewed due to its longer steeping time. I nixed that because the caffeine content wasn’t available, even though I’d emailed the company.

Next stop—Whole Foods, where I purchased some canned Illy Espresso drink (unsweetened). The caffeine content for the 6.8-oz. can was 152 mg, so 2/3 of that would get me to 100 mg. Well, from past experience, I also noticed that carbonated energy drinks tended to affect me more quickly than still ones. A diet Red Bull worked faster than the caffeine equivalent of Hy-Drive. So I thought I’d add some carbonation to my Illy Espresso drink. Lo and behold, it not only worked, but it worked RAPIDLY! I’ve only done indoor rides (due to the weather) but I have completed 25+ and 30+ mile rides on my new Petra-approved energy drink. AND I have had no need for the mid-ride caffeine or carb boost! Perhaps with the weather improving, I might need that for an outdoor ride (with pollen and wind, outdoor rides are more challenging than those inside a gym). But I’m pleased with the results and I’m keeping all of the data in a personal training spreadsheet.

Like a fun cocktail, but without the booze. Or the fun.

The “Recipe”

  • 2/3 of a 6.8 ounce (200 ml) can of Illy Espresso drink (unsweetened)
  • flavored seltzer water (do not use the kind with artificial sweeteners)

Pour espresso into a water bottle. Add some seltzer water (I add about 4 oz.). This doesn’t taste very good, but that’s not the aim.

1And the word “endurance” is the key, because it sure isn’t speed! I cycle the same way I used to run—slowly, very slowly, but steadily. For me, the distance is more important.

On the Dry Months

Or What I Did on My Late Winter/Early Spring Vacation

What Is Dry?

Back on February 1, I began a month I dubbed “Dry February”, analogous to the relatively recent British thing called Dry January that I’d heard about. Because the impetus for THAT was to give up alcohol for a month and I only drank on weekends, merely refraining from alcohol didn’t seem all that impressive a goal for me. So I upped the ante by eliminating all sugar (including honey, maple syrup, and a few days into Dry February, artificial sweeteners). I took white flour (and finely milled whole wheat flour) out of my diet. I removed white potatoes and white rice and refined grains. In other words, I abstained from “bad” carbs, with two caveats: I would eat what I was served if invited to someone else’s home for a meal and I would permit myself energy drinks and gels for my weekly endurance exercise workout. And there was one more part of Dry February, this one not diet-related—I decided to stay away from Facebook.

So, How Did It Go?: The Results

Swimmingly. Granted, this was, largely, a return to the kind of eating habits I’d had a year earlier, before I started making excuses (oh, I deserve this, I’m too tired to cook so let’s go out, pub food weekly isn’t bad). By the end of the month, I’d felt as though I was back–physically—where I belonged. My skin cleared up, I lost a few pounds, and I had no food cravings, save for roasted, unsalted hazelnuts. I was actually sleeping less, but needing less—the desire to take a nap in the middle of the day was gone. My energy levels increased. My occasional knee pain disappeared. Facebook no longer had a pull on me. Admittedly, I did little cooking, although roasting vegetables was a twice-weekly event in Casa Petra’s fabulously remodeled kitchen. And I ate a lot of salads, so I made a lot of salad dressing.

Given these successes, I opted to continue into March. The idea was to regain some semblance of control over my eating habits, become more food-aware (although processed foods were always a relatively small portion of my diet), and recover my taste buds (like appreciating the natural sweetness in, say, a sweet potato or a Starbucks flat white). And I really cut back on my Starbucks habit, now that mochas (even skinny ones) were off the list.

Dry-ish March

With my positive dietary progress in February, I opted to continue this through March, at least for the most part. There WERE a few transgressions during this in-like-a-lion-out-like-a-lamb month:

  • I ate one square of dark chocolate (at least 85% cacao content), four days per week. Technically not a transgression, as I planned this. Very dark chocolate (and cake batter) were about the only sugar-related cravings I had in February. And I don’t bake much anymore, so the cake batter is a persistent craving, but not of the “I gotta have it” kind.
  • I ate white potatoes three times: once at a monthly vegetarian potluck I attend (I’m an omnivore, btw), once the day after (because I took home some leftovers, including a salad that had some potatoes as an ingredient), and hash browns when I met my Indy Crew for lunch (but less than half—and I picked out all the bits with crispy brown crunchiness).
  • I ate one marshmallow. One of my culinary goals has been to make homemade marshmallows, so I had fun on the first day of spring break (after my grading was caught up), whipping out the stand mixer and crafting some marshmallows. I ate exactly one, giving the rest away. Marshmallows don’t exactly send me into a swoon, so they aren’t tempting. But I did eat one to test them. The verdict: homemade marshmallows are infinitely better than store-bought. And not all that difficult to make, assuming you have a candy thermometer and a KitchenAid.
  • I ate a little bit of white flour twice: Once, at a Mexican restaurant and once at that vegetarian potluck (where my contribution was homemade bread and delicious local cheese). I really wanted to try that bread. It was worth it.

So What Did You Learn, Miss Petra?

A lot. Expect to see a post or two in the future about how Big Sugar and how it conspired with “researchers” to get a country (and increasingly a globe) addicted to sugar. Yes, addicted. I’m not falling for the old canard of “people who are fat lack willpower” (no, they don’t—they’ve been sold a bill of low-fat goods and to boot, the sugar industry, with its co-conspirators in academic nutrition departments, worked hard to suppress widespread dissemination of research results that linked sugar to adverse outcomes, such as diabetes mellitus [the 7th leading cause of death in the United States]). Trust me, I’ll have another post or two on this in the future.

Personally, I’ve identified concentrated amounts of sugar as eating triggers for me. For example, pancakes—I LOVE to go out for breakfast and order pancakes with syrup (since this is something I never make for myself at home). But I noticed that if I eat that, I’ll eat. All. Day. Long. As much as I love them, I’ll have to reserve them for once a year, preferably as dinner.

I’ve learned that, while I enjoy cocktails, I will save the sweet ones for the rare holiday. A glass of wine with dinner—fine. Beer? No (there’s a reason for “beer bellies”). I might have to learn to drink bourbon and/or scotch neat or on the rocks. It’s healthier that way!

I’ve learned that it really IS about the sugar. I’ve lost a lot of weight twice in my life—about 100 pounds after high school and about 40 pounds in grad school. The former method was low-carb (trust me, I got very sick of canned green beans and tuna fish!) The latter method was low-fat. Therefore, I thought the whole low-carb vs. low-fat didn’t make sense (and I thus bought the “calories in minus calories out” argument, the one that Coca-Cola and Pepsico would have you believe). But I’d been thinking recently that there was one commonality to BOTH diets when I was on them—I didn’t eat much sugar! Low-carb diets forbid the stuff and when I was eating low-fat, I refrained from a lot of sugar because all of the good sugary treats, like cakes and ice creams, also contained lots of fat.

One More March Success

I also learned that it is possible to watch The Great British Baking Show without succumbing to something sugary and sweet. In fact, it’s possible to watch said show without even WANTING something sweet. I appreciate the skill and the artistry of the contestants, but I didn’t feel the desire to bake cookies or cakes or pies with the intent of eating them. I did want to bake for the challenge and sense of accomplishment, but not to eat anything myself.

Will I Ever Eat Cake Again?

Of course. And I’ll savor every last morsel. I’m going to eat my sugar calories only when they count, when I’m invited to someone’s home and they’ve made something special for dessert. When I go out to a wonderful new restaurant noted for their sweets. When I invite guests to my home for a dinner party (friends, don’t worry—I’m not going to throw an apple on the table and yell “Dig in!”)

That said, I’m into Dry-ish April now.

Notes on Creativity

What, Exactly IS Creativity?

I’ll start with that most circular of definitions—creativity is the process of creating something new, whether wholly or partly. It is the external generation of an internal idea. Typically, creativity is applied to a subset of areas, nearly always in the arts. The painter, the filmmaker, the novelist, the singer, the actor—these are the creatives, at least in the common parlance of the average American. Frankly, that’s a very UN-creative way of defining the inventive among us. The engineer is said to be “clever”, the teacher uses “novel” pedagogical methods, the businesswoman introduces an “innovative” management system—all are outside the ordinary, but rarely described as “creative” by the masses. Sure, creativity (and creatives) are a sought-after “thing” in the tech field (along with meditation breaks and organic cafes), but the typical Hoosier or Iowan or Ohioan probably just calls them “smart”.

The Other Arts

Okay, painting a canvas, writing a poem, performing a monologue—these are clearly artistic pursuits (and creative acts). But so is developing a new ice cream flavor (culinary ARTS, anyone?). So is designing an apron for the cook with many gadgets (design is an art). And creating a life, one that not only diverges from but CELEBRATES nonconformity may be the ultimate art.

Life Can (and Should) Be a Creative Act

Many of us do creative acts every day, even if we don’t recognize them. Every time we invent a new game to play with our three-year old, we are creative. Every time we take a new route to work, we are creative. Every time we craft an intriguing stew from the dregs of the produce crisper, we are creative. Life can be a creative act. Indeed, life SHOULD be a creative act. For those of us who bypass the suburban ethos (even if we live there), eschewing the almost mandated displays of conformity is radical and creative—sometime Radical with a capital “R” and sometimes radical with a lower case “r”. Every time we forge ahead with life design that is outside of the nuclear family, every time we throw a dinner party for the fabulous misfits, every time we give a big “fuck you” to the notion that older women can’t have pink hair we are being creative.

So, What Is a Creative Life?

I posit that the creative life simply involves seeing the world through fresh eyes, different perspectives, with a liberal dose of convention-flouting. Maybe it includes sculpting and maybe it includes making marshmallows. Or both. It certainly includes a healthy disrespect for tired old norms that serve no society. And frankly, it includes a little dark chocolate.

A Suburban State of Mind: Part One

Whither, Suburbia

Let’s face it—most of the United States looks alike, at least with respect to residential zones. A stale and predictable sameness, in which one can tell the state only by the “Welcome To …” signs. Pennsylvania morphs into Ohio, which changes into Indiana, which becomes Illinois, its predictable blandness stretching for hundreds and hundreds of miles. A few regional quirks—adobe in New Mexico, saltbox in New England—but, as a general observation, you’ll find the same brick ramblers and overly roofed mini-mansions in Maryland as in Minnesota. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in America’s suburbs.

Not Dead Yet

For years, the media has been trumpeting the Death of the Suburbs. While suburbia is less attractive to more urban-focused (and mobile) millennials, the demise of the subdivision hasn’t happened yet. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and he’s still building developments to sell to good little girls and boys. Our current low gas prices aren’t exactly sending suburbia’s denizens to the Big Bad City (and in the case of some cities, like Indianapolis, their morphologies and relatively low population densities are on the far side of what one typically associates with an urban environment). No, the suburb hasn’t died yet.

I Am One of Them

I am a suburbanite. I have a brick ranch house—classic American architecture—in a mature subdivision. I have a front yard (with one silver maple and one saucer magnolia) and a back yard (with two silver maples). I have a fence. I have a two-car garage and, unlike some of my neighbors, I can actually fit two cars in them, assuming I move the snowblower from its current at-the-ready position. I CHOSE to live here. And in many ways, I like it very much. There’s room for my herb garden. My patio holds a grill and a smoker, the former practically required in a development. I have a deck so I can sit outside when the weather permits, drinking my morning decaf or an evening cocktail. I can have people over for dinner without having to worry about parking. I can walk on the sidewalks or bike in the neighborhood streets for a quick burst of exercise. This. Is. Pleasant.

A Death March Toward Conformity

For many people, the word “suburban” connotes a certain blandness and conformity. The houses are designed by builders, not architects. Interiors full of too much stuff, poorly assembled trinkets made in China or perhaps old cans or boxes that “might come in handy someday”. Two-and three-car garages so full of junk that fitting in a bicycle is problematic, let alone a car. Indoors, the same wall décor or family pictures in frames probably purchased at the same Walmarts or Targets. The lives lived are the same as well—the same sports teams (formerly football, now likely soccer) or, increasingly, the same electronics and video games played indoors. Dining at the same Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesdays or Chinese buffets that inhabit strip malls differing in appearance not at all from those three states away.

And Yet I am Not One of Them

Is that characterization correct? After all, I live in suburbia and I am decidedly noncomformist (single, unapologetically childfree, intellectually driven, and agnostic for starters). Many, perhaps most, of my friends (as offbeat as me1) live in suburbs. Am I unwittingly buying into a stereotype, despite intellectual gifts? Or do I just have a knack for finding the outliers? Granted, my own neighborhood is a bit of a university ghetto, with faculty and staff comprising a substantial proportion of my neighbors. The academic milieu is known for attracting “unusual” types (although that, too, may be a bit of a stereotype, as I know plenty of colleagues living white-picket-fence sort of lives2).

In Search of, If Not an Answer, Observations

I think. I like to think. I like to question. I’m curious. And I’ll be looking. And posting about suburbia again in the future. Observing not only my own low-density, single-family-home neighborhood, but others as well. Ciao, until I write again.

1 Life is too short to spend time with intellectual dullards and shallow thinkers.

2The Academic Stereotype—that’s the subject of another post!

On Dry March

Or the Extension of Dry February

Dry February ended a week ago and I decided to extend the “nos” (no alcohol, no sweeteners, no rice, no white flour, potatoes, no Facebook) into March. What had been a personal challenge (i.e. can I do it?) became a veritable creed, especially the “no sweeteners” part. Granted, I feel wonderful physically (and as noted by a fellow gym denizen, apparently look “really healthy”—thank you, Dennis!) But at the end of February, I watched Dr. Robert Lustig’s “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” on YouTube and have become a somewhat reluctant yet enthusiastic convert to a life lived with minimal sugar.

My New Celebrity Crush

Okay, I admit it. I’ve got a small crush on the guy, a renowned and well published pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco. He’s brilliant (an MIT man!), passionate, admits to struggling with his own weight, and most importantly, he’s right about sugar. The video, despite being 90 minutes long, was both compelling and entertaining (and he delivers the biochemistry part in a way that most lay people can comprehend). I read articles and interviews about and with him online. I ordered his book “Fat Chance” and devoured it over the course of three days. BTW, that pun was not intended, but in retrospect, it should have been.

Some of you may have watched the documentary “Fed Up” or the award-winning Canadian documentary “Sugarcoated” and thus find his name familiar. Dr. Lustig has worked with obese, often morbidly so, children and teenagers and knows their struggles. And if you know me, you know of my own struggles—I once weighed 100 pounds more than I do today. Anyway, Lustig’s research squarely points the blame on sugar, especially fructose. Now you might interject and say “hey, that’s found in fruit and aren’t fruits good for you?” You would be correct. But in eating a piece of fruit, you are also getting the fiber, which helps the liver from receiving an onslaught of fructose (where, apparently, is the only place it is metabolized). And in Sugarcoated, the filmmakers show how the sugar industry and their various PR “associations” knew this, but still misled (and continue to mislead) the public about sugar’s addictive qualities and its toxicity.

Sugar Tastes Good!

Yes, Virginia, yes it does. And this is part of the reason why I’m a RELUCTANT convert to the no-crap eating style. I love making sweet treats, even if I don’t partake of them very often (after reading Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories a number of years ago, I cut back on my sugars and refined carbohydrates). I am known for making fabulous homemade ice cream. Crème brulee, rhubarb cake, rich challah—all a delight to make and, of course, a delight to eat. Will I miss this? Certainly, although I will bake again (my, that sounds so inspirational—I Will Bake Again!) When I host a dinner party, I’m not going to throw apples on the table and tell my guests to enjoy their desserts. Naturally, I’ll finish the meal with a decadent sweet. If I’m invited to someone’s home for a meal, I will eat what I am served (not going to be THAT guest!) But I will be making desserts less often (only when I’ll be sharing them with friends). Yes, sugar does taste good. But in the quantities Americans eat the stuff, it’s practically a societal poison. And I don’t want to be poisoned.

The Scariest Thing

For me, the relationship between sugar consumption and Alzheimer’s disease frightens me the most. The too-many-pounds thing bothers me on an aesthetic level, but the thought of literally losing my mind to tangles really makes me wonder whether that sugary Frappuccino is worth it. I never realized that the two were linked (and yes, I believe it is correlation, not causation, but why take the chance?) I thank Dr. Lustig for bringing this to my attention. My grandmother, who did live into her mid-90s, suffered from Type 2 diabetes and dementia at the end (okay, she was very old, but still, should I live that long, I’d want my mental faculties in as much tact as possible).

More to Come

Oh, I have more to write about, more to talk about this. And yesterday I made, of all things, homemade marshmallows, which are almost entirely sugar (4 ingredients—sugar (granulated and powdered), corn syrup (a sugar), gelatin, and water). I did it for the challenge, but honestly, I won’t eat them (I did eat one and they just taste like marshmallows). But still—I have a long way to go.

In the meantime, I’ll be sticking to Dry March. And continuing to improve my health. Expect another likeminded blog post or two sometime soon.

On Spring

Day 3 of Meteorological Spring

Meteorological spring begins March 1, with the season encompassing the months of March, April, and May. Winter—both meteorological and astronomical—has been on vacation here in the Midwest. We’ve had scant numbers of cold days, the really bitter ones that have you imagining your furnace as a cash register, racking up dollars for your local gas company. I think there’s only been a single day with a below-zero (°F) reading. On the other hand, we’ve had a string of May-like days with highs in the 50s and 60s. My silver maples are starting to leaf out. Daffodils and crocuses have been blooming for days now. And the forsythias are beginning to bloom. Spring has come early here in Indiana.

And Yet I am Ready for Spring

Mind you, I do enjoy all seasons, including winter. To me, it’s the cooking season, when I break out the enameled cast iron to turn out soups and stews. ‘Tis the season for braised lamb shanks or beans simmered for a couple of hours. It’s when I look forward to using the oven to bake a loaf of bread, both the residual heat and the marvelous smell infusing my kitchen. I sit down with tea and cookbooks, envisioning dinner parties with delightful and delicious menus. But this year, I’m really ready for spring, despite having had so little of winter.

Typically, I’ll be tired of cloudiness and snow and cold by now. But, while there’s been plenty of clouds, for the past couple of weeks we’ve actually seen plentiful sunshine here. And snow has been a rarity, with my snowblower only turned on to see if it worked. What has happened to me has been my embrace of cycling. And with that, I’m ready to bike outdoors regularly again. I did a 30+ miler the other week, largely on the Cardinal Greenway. Then a week of 60s, followed by storms and a day of snow showers, shifting my cycling workout indoors (28.5 miles on the recumbent at the gym—not too shabby, but not outside).

But Not Ready for Daylight Savings Time

I do not like long summer days. There, I’ve said it. While I appreciate—nay, LOVE—sunlight in the early mornings, by 7:30 or 8:00, I want it to be dark outdoors. Ideally, it would be light by 5:30-ish and dark by 7:30 (and for those of you who love long days, you’ll note that’s still a 14-hour day). Darkness is magical and sinister and oddly comforting. While I love to see the sun come up in the morning, I’m also glad to see it set in the evening. So, I will be welcoming spring but merely tolerating (begrudgingly) its little sister Daylight Savings Time.