Monday, August 4, 2014

Books to Read Aloud

There are some things that are annoying about being a parent.  The constant need to supply them with edible meals, the buying and stain spotting and washing of all of the clothes, the cleaning and manicuring of their bodies that is never ending, and of course the frequent whining about unimportant or unchangeable things and the asking for things they could technically do on their own (The tags on my clothes itch!  The sun bothers my eyes!  I need a bandaid!  Wait, now I need another bandaid!).  Just to name a few. 
But there are joys that come with it too, and one of them is reading aloud.  If I was stuck on a desert island with them all I would want is an unlimited supply of books.  It would be awesome.   I would go to my dehydrated grave full with words and upturned smiling faces.  It really is my favorite thing to do with them.  But choosing the right books can be difficult to keep a 10 year old girl and a 7 year old boy interested (Viv doesn’t read with us much yet but she is getting closer to being able to concentrate on the story).  One challenge is the age spread and another is the gender difference, but even then you would think there would be tons of choices out there.  It ends up it is harder to find than you think.  Also, the third challenge is that I am picky about what I’m reading too and I want it to be good; I don’t want to waste my time on tired stupid plots that lack interesting prose.  When I tell people this they will often recommend classics, and I do try to get some of those in, but I’ve read a lot of those already so I don’t really want to read them again out loud (although I do for the kids sake).  But normally I want something fresh and new for all of us, so I’m constantly on a hunt for something that meets all my criteria. 
We have a local small bookstore called Rediscovered Books and we have found the staff to be really helpful in giving us some guidance.  It was through their summer reading list that we ended up with TumTum and Nutmeg: The Rose Cottage Adventures.  We just finished it and really enjoyed it.  It is essentially 3 different stories inside the one book and while it clearly was not the first book in the series I thought it stood on its own well.  The one line synopsis is that it is about 2 little mice that live inside the house of a lower class family and the mice sort of watch over the kids while also getting sucked into different adventures and therefore the children also get involved.  Asher lost interest from time to time, but Avery liked it more than I thought she would; I thought it might be too “babyish” for her but she actually really got into it!  It is pretty gentle as far as the plot, very innocent but with enough adventure to be good for boys or girls.  Definitely a lower elementary target age as far as topic but at a reading level more for a 3rd or 4th grader (based on my guess), which is why I think it was good for reading out loud.  I even liked it!

People sometimes ask me what Avery and Asher are into reading on their own right now and I think Avery’s favorite books of the summer have been The Twistrose Key, The School for Good and Evil, and A Tale Dark and Grimm. Asher’s favorite books right now are the two Life of Ty books.  If you have a first or second grade boy and are looking for something to start reading to them and then transition to them reading on their own I would recommend these.  Even I laugh at parts of the books!

Please feel free to share any books that you think are great to read aloud to a family, we are always looking to beef up our list! 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Food Thoughts/Game On! Diet week 6

Many of you already know that Andrew and I are playing this competitive diet game, Game On! Diet.  It has been fun and effective for us (I lost 4 lbs the first time I played in April, gained a couple of pounds back and restarted the game 2 weeks ago and have lost 3 lbs since then, so net negative 5 lbs).  Andrew is also losing weight (not that he really "needs" to, but if he wants to be closer to "race weight" for biking then I guess, according to him, he has to lose some weight).  It has been great for us, because it combines camaraderie and support with competitive challenge, which is what is so great about so many sports.  So it makes dieting a sport, which is cool, and works for us!

I will tell most anyone (and probably have told everyone) that the best part of the diet is actually not the diet part.  It is the "habit change" part of the game (you have to get rid of a bad habit of your own choosing by 'not' doing something everyday AND start a good habit that you actually do every day).  I have been trying to do this on my own for the past year unsuccessfully, but the accountability of the game has really driven me to do it!  The great thing is that I really can see how, when you stop a bad habit for 2 weeks, it truly stops and you don't have quite the same drive to do it again; you have the self control and power to make a choice.  My best example is my phone, because that was my first bad habit, I made the rule for myself that I couldn't touch it in the car when I was driving.  The first week I failed several days, I was subconsciously picking up my phone without even thinking about it.  The second week went better, but it still would really bother me when it was ringing and was sitting RIGHT THERE in my purse, I could just reach in and... but I didn't.  And by the 3rd week I didn't even think about it, I didn't care if it rang or beeped or buzzed, ignoring it became easy (so much so that I started ignoring at home too, when I wasn't even in the car!).

As far as the food rules go, I think both Andrew and I feel better eating the smaller portion sizes that the game makes us eat.  Particularly the afternoon snack is a great diet addition for me.  It means that at 6 pm I'm not so STARVING that I could eat the entire state of Idaho.  So I can make a healthier choice for dinner, eat slower, and eat a smaller portion.  The other good food rule is that you get to have 100 calories of "anything" during the day.  I love having this exception, it means that if I am totally jonesing for some chocolate I can have a little bit.  And it ends up that a little bit is enough to feel satisfied (sometimes!).

Which brings me to the point I was trying to get to.  The other day Andrew asked me if I think there is a place (not a real place, but a mental place) where we can be eating healthy (like we are on this diet) but not being so obsessed about portion size and what we're eating.  I wish I could say "yes" to this unequivocally, but I'm not sure.  I would like that, and I have certainly been in a place that the author of Game On! Diet describes as "fat and happy."  I have had times when I have been content with my body even though my body is not ideal and thankful that I have strength and endurance and an ability to move around the earth and eat good food and breathe fresh air and all of things that go into appreciating being a living human being without caring about how "big" I am.  And then there are times I think, "I really want to be the healthiest I can be, and I know that if I lose 15 lbs I will be at the weight my body should be at to be it's healthiest; to avoid atherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome and all of that, so I need to make changes to be healthy and live longer."  And then there are times that I look in the mirror and think, "If only I could lose those 15 lbs I would look so much better and not be so afraid to put on my swimming suit."  Which of those is reality? Or something to aspire to?  Or something to use as motivation? I don't know.

And then today, as I was reading my new dessert cookbook, the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook (inspired to purchase based on so many pinterest and facebook food porn pictures and then furthered by my desire to BAKE because I'm on a diet that doesn't allow WHITE FLOUR OR SUGAR which is clearly food of the Gods!) I had a moment where it all sort of made sense.  And it had very little to do with me or my perception of me.  It was about the cycle of community involved in food and where our society is with food right now and how we make change in ourselves.  Because one thing I've been thinking is how HARD it is to play this game outside of our house.  If we go out to eat we are very limited, there are very few restaurants that serve food in 1) the appropriate portion 2) the appropriate ratio of protein/carb/fat 3) don't use processed foods/fats and 4) don't use sugar or white flour.  We are fighting an uphill battle against what society is telling us.  Which makes me think, how does ANYONE stay at their ideal body weight?  Ever?  Or is it a fight for everyone? 

But I digress (as usual), we have strayed so far from the concept of eating for survival, from the idea of a community producing food for each other.  And so (and this is not a novel thought by any means) the whole "farm-to-table" concept is really where we may be able to change all of that.  Right now it's cool, almost cliche, in areas of the U.S. to talk about farm-to-table.  In other countries that is HOW YOU GET FOOD, at the place where it is grown, by the people who grow it.  Which, is maybe why other countries are not as fat as we are, right?  But the thing that really struck me, this time, was how beautiful farm-to-table is in it's essence.  Maybe it's because I spent so much time at my grandparent's cattle ranch as a kid, watching farm-to-table at it's origins (which was WAY more manual labor than beauty to be sure).  This passage from the head baker/creator of Momofuku Milk Bar, Christina Tosi, actually made me cry:

We closed down our kitchen one day this past summer, and went to see where the darling jugs of impossibly creamy and flavorful milk came from.  We left with a deeper understanding of how to smile when it rains, the knowledge that skinned knees are as badass as sheet-pan burns, and a line drive to our hearts as a reminder that each jug of milk is made by a small family with skill, thought, and drive.  Every drop of milk counts on that farm.  The pigs and chickens are fed any leftover milk; a jug sold is part of a loan payment or a piece of used farm equipment to help expedite the milking and pasteurization process.  Each jug, therefore, must count in our kitchen.  We are a kindred family that survives, fortunately, by doing what we love.

When I read this it made me really think that this is probably the way out of our constant need for food consumption, to REALIZE WHERE IT COMES FROM for everything you eat and to value that.  Ok, so taken to it's natural end we end up in the Portlandia episode where they sit down at the restaurant to eat the chicken and then end up going to the farm to make sure it had a good life and end up in a cult.  I don't mean THAT, but in a more reasonable way I mean thinking about food before we put it in our mouth.  If we would all just pause and think, for even 1 second, before that bite went into our mouths, or before we put food into a skillet or oven, or before we pull it off the shelf at the store, we might make different and healthier choices.  Again, this is not a new concept, mindful eating has been a buzzword for awhile.  But why can't we do it?  I think it's habit.  Just like the habits Andrew and I are changing in our 4-week longgame, this too is a habit, created out of ease, but a habit all the same.  Changeable.  A choice. So maybe the answer, to Andrew's question, is a "yes" after all, because we all have the power to change our habits.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Not giving up on Minimalist Advent yet!

So it has turned into a list, no themes, just a list.  But I’m still doing it!

Day #10 – old rain coat – it had several baby/coffee/dirt stains, but I loved it, so it was hard to part with, but it needed to be put down.
Day #11 – protein shake packets – I don’t know why I kid myself with these things, they work for weight loss because they are extremely low calorie and full of protein so they fill you up, the trade off is they are disgusting.  I’ve decided I would rather eat the calorie equivalent of something that tastes good and feel hungry afterwards than to choke down one of these.
Day #12 – extra address labels – I was looking through my office supplies and had some sheets of random sized labels (the leftovers from previously used boxes) why on earth did I keep these?  One consistent size is more than enough for my once or twice a year address label making needs!
Day #13 – Set of blue and white mugs/lids/plates/saucers – I’m counting these for 4 days because this was such a big thing to get rid of.  These were our “hot chocolate mugs” and “treat plates” and they were quite cute with their little lids for the mugs and everything.  And when I got them (I think for my wedding) they were surrounded with so much hope for cozy blizzard days with hot chocolate around the beautifully set table with my yet to be born children that I could cry just thinking about it (Thank you Williams Sonoma for setting that expectation).  Ends up they aren’t practical; we use them once a year and typically when we have used them a child has chipped the delicate porcelain or spilled (they are very “spilly” cups, you know what I’m talking about, some mugs just spill a lot).  You will not be surprised to find out that we have as cozy of days as I had imagined with hot chocolate in regular mugs at our table set with plastic mats.  There is more screaming and hitting and whining than in my imagined scenario pre-children, but it’s still pretty nice.
Day #14 – as above
Day #15 – as above
Day #16 – as above
Day #17 – baby gates – we don’t need them anymore, yay!!!
Day #19 – a pair of jeans – how many jeans does a person really need?  Discuss amongst yourselves.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Cheaters Never Prosper

This weekend I had an "aha" moment about this experience.  I actually tried to cheat the system on Friday.  I put aside about 4 articles of clothing that I am going to donate, thinking that I would use one of them for day #6 and then keep the rest in case I have a busy day later on this month or I run out of things to get rid of (Ha ha!  As if I could run out!).  But despite having some things knowingly set aside to use, I still keep running into new things on a daily basis, without any preplanning whatsoever, that I want to get rid of simply because I am more observant about my surroundings with this mindset in place.  It is interesting because I have done big “spring cleaning” sorts of things in my closets before, and I really enjoy them, but the smaller daily living mindset is actually really nice too and keeps me more present and aware of my use of various household objects. So even though I planned on cheating it didn't even work!  Although they are still in my closet just in case...

Day #6: “An item of clothing that doesn’t fit”
I wore a pair of pants today that I haven't worn in awhile and they started out the feeling like they fit, but 30 minutes into wearing them I realized they are "saggy butt pants.I’ve lost a little weight over the past year (through a lot of sweat and tears) and my body is just different now which means clothing fits different.  I have been selling my in-good-shape clothing through Thred Up (an online consignment store) and I’m happy with their process, so into the Thred Up bag they go!

Day #7: “something that needlessly takes up surface real estate (my own term for flat spaces: tables, counter tops, etc.)”
I got rid of my alarm clock today.  It worked just fine, but it was sort of old and pretty big, plus I don’t even use it any more as an alarm clock, I use my phone.  It was starting to be crowded on my bedside table and now it looks so nice and empty; my phone has it's own real estate now!

Day #8:  “an item of clothing that is worn out, and should not be worn in public”
I have a tendency to hang onto sweaters.  As someone who knits I love the texture and color and everything about a sweater.  But sometimes they get worn out, and pilled, and just smelly.  This particular sweater lives on the bottom of a stack of other sweaters that I actually wear.  I keep thinking I’ll wear it some day for some dirty indoor task where no one else will see me and I will never go outside in it.  Which means it will probably never get worn.  Because who wears a sweater when what you want is actually an old sweatshirt?

Day #9: “something useless taking up space in the kitchen cabinet”
If you have little kids you know that sippy cups are sort of annoying, but also necessary if you don’t want to be constantly mopping your floors.  There is always a “new and better” sippy cup that comes out and I am exactly the person they are marketing those for.  And then I get them home and I’m acutely disappointed in their performance.  I got rid of a couple of them today and it’s like a sippy cup size weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Just in case you thought I forgot...

I didn’t! I just don’t have time to blog about stuff every day so I’ll have to chunk it.  Also, for the fun of it (and for potentially repeating the process next year) I’ve added themes that complete the directive, “Pass along something…”

2nd day: “…that is broken.”
Today we sold a desk and matching chair on craig’s list.  It had a broken drawer, and had been well used by our whole family for the past 8 years.  The drawer was fixable, but neither of us wanted to do that, or pay to have it done on something that was already in fairly worn out condition.  Plus it doesn’t match any of our other furniture (which is no crime, we definitely lived with mismatched furniture throughout college, grad school, medical and vet school, and 7 years of residencies).  Furniture that plays well together is enjoyable for me and so the broken desk is now gone.

3rd day: “…that is an unnecessary duplicate.”
Today I donated our old duvet cover.  It was one of those things I had thought of keeping because it was still in decent condition, but really, when am I going to use that, ever?  Plus it was annoying because it had pin tucks.  Have you ever tried to tug gently on something with pintucks? (when you are making a bed for example)?  Don’t do it, it rips them out, which looks bad.  Not a good purchase choice on my part and keeping it reminded me of my failings.

4th day: “…that you’ve been holding on to only because it was a gift.”
Today I donated a piece of pottery that was given to us as a wedding gift.  I liked it for the first 6 years, then I stopped liking it as much, and now it doesn’t fit with anything else we have and the guilt surrounding getting rid of it because it was a wedding present is cloying.  But, it is gone.  Sweet relief.

5th day: “…that is uncomfortable/annoying.”
Today I sorted through my sock drawer and got rid of a bunch of socks.  I need to remind myself not to buy socks in sets, because inevitably half the set has colors I like and the other half I don’t, so they get shoved in the back of the drawer and never worn.  I also have a bunch of socks that annoy me because of the way they feel inside my shoes (my kids are super sensitive about sock seams, I wonder where they get it from…) so those are gone too.  The remaining socks can now luxuriate in their spacious drawer.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Minimalist Advent

I’ve always loved the idea of an Advent calendar but I’ve never actually had one.  A couple of times we’ve bought the inexpensive chocolate deals for the kids and it just seemed so excessive to have a treat every day (and the chocolate is often gross) and so it just never really “took” as a family tradition.  But I like the idea of “marking the days” which is what it seems like it is all about.  Based on my very brief research (5 minutes of google) advent calendars have only been around for 100 or so years and the ones that have gifts in them for only about 60 years, so it’s not like Jesus said “give them loads of stuff every day leading up to and including my actual birthday!” right?  And I don’t want to send the message to my kids that “you get a new ‘thing’ every day” and then there is just more junky stuff around the house, which drives me crazy. 

I looked around on the internet and I found some really fun ideas like this one
but even that requires more time and planning than I am capable of at this point.  So I decided to do something that kills two birds with one stone (on a side note, that is really an unfortunate metaphor isn’t it, with the killing of the birds and everything?).  I’m going to donate or get rid of one “thing” every day leading up to Christmas, and I’m going to document it here so that I can hold myself accountable.  Not only will it free up more space (and be less stuff to move to our new house) but it will passing things on that could be of potential use by others.  I’m going to try to talk the kids into doing it too, to make some room for whatever new might be coming into the house this holiday season but we’ll see how that goes.  Wish me luck!

Day #1 – Our Crib – ok, so this is totally picking the low hanging fruit because we were going to get rid of it anyway, but give me a break, I just finished working 60+ hours over the past 4 days and I’m tired.  Plus, it’s been sitting in our garage for the last 3 weeks and it really needs to go.  Surprisingly, even though all 3 of our kids slept in there as a baby, I have no emotional attachment to the crib so this is not really a painful one to give away.  So tonight we will put it on Craig’s List!  (I would absolutely donate it but there are no charitable organizations that will accept cribs in our city that I can find due to safety risks).  If you’re looking for a free crib let me know.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sleep and the Sleep Cycle App

 As a doctor I often end up talking to people about sleep; about how important it is, how truly critical it is to our health, and in talking about it I see how many people have abnormal sleep patterns.  It is one of those chicken and the egg issues; is it their comorbidities affecting their sleep or their sleep affecting their comorbidities?  I usually don’t have the answer for that, other than that many people I see who are struggling with their weight also have abnormal sleep (ok my friend over at Go Maleo, I’m just waiting for you to blog about this!).  Anyway, sleep is critical, there is no debating the evidence for that: if you don’t sleep at all you will die (in the short term) and if you don’t sleep much you will definitely die sooner than you should (in the long term).  So why, when I am knowledgeable on this subject do I personally suck at taking my own advice?  Probably for whatever the same reason most people tend to lack insight about some of the things that negatively affect their life the most (it would take a lot of psychological theory to delve into this and it is not the point so I’m just going to gloss over the “why” right now and move on).  Anyway, the point is, I don’t sleep as much as would be healthy. 
            I’m not the only one you know!  Our whole society is burning the candle at both ends, you can read all about it all over the internet I’m sure!  Somehow that makes me feel better, that I’m not the only one, but in the end I really know better than to fall back on a group mentality like that. I have read a lot about this and I have gone to lectures given by doctors who specialize in sleep medicine (that’s right, there is an ENTIRE FIELD OF MEDICINE DEDICATED TO THE TOPIC) and it is pretty clear to me that I have probably shaved 5-10 years off my life expectancy by shorting myself on sleep in a chronic fashion.  That means if I was going to be average and make it to 75 or 80 I’ll now be lucky to make it to 70.  I better get crackin’ on some of my life goals because 70 is just around the corner!
 I could blame my career (damn you medical school and residency!) but the reality is that I was the kid under the blankets reading books with a flashlight past my bedtime and then waking up at 5:30 am for swim practice long before my profession got a hold of me.   Recognizing you have a problem is the first step they say.  Personally my next step is always “data collection.”  It’s just my nature to want to fully analyze the problem before I work on the solution.  So 2 months ago I started using an app called Sleep Cycle.
Sleep Cycle works by sensing your body movements in your bed at night (you lay your phone near your head – I don’t even want to think about my increased brain cancer risk right now so don’t go there!).  If you’re moving a lot it puts you in the “awake” category and if you’re moving less it puts you in the “sleep” category and if you are completely still you are in the “deep sleep” category.  I can’t really speak to the validity of the methods of this app because while body movements are part of your sleep cycle I don’t think this method alone can really say what sleep state you are in (unless they also make an EEG app and little electrodes pop out of your phone and attach to your scalp).  But in the morning you get a nice little graph showing you your sleep cycles based on your movements throughout the night.  It ends up that, like most humans, I have 90 minute sleep cycles, which doesn’t really surprise me.  What did surprise me is how little I have been sleeping!
Now, you might say, “but you just said you have never slept that much” and yes, I know that is true, I said that!  But when I actually looked at the hard data that was showing me what time I went to bed each night, what time I wake up each morning, how much sleep I get total and what the relative “quality” of that sleep is and then look at a graph of those numbers (with averages as well) it makes the situation look much more dire.   
As a fun side note, it has an option where you can add notes about your day and then correlate them to your “rating” of how well you slept.  For example you can click “drank coffee” or “stressful day” and then the next morning it will give you a frowny face, a “meh” face, or a smiley face so that you can rate your night of sleep and it will then correlate those factors over time with your opinion of your sleep quality.  Again, not hard science there, but kind of a fun little correlation tool for personal use. 
Using that part of the app I have discovered that I feel like I have slept better in the morning if I have green tea at night before I go to bed.  So, let me emphasize, this is CORRELATION not CAUSATION.  I am not saying green tea helps me sleep, but that somehow the two tend to happen at the same time.  If I had to guess I would actually say that when I have green tea before I go to bed I tend to sit and meditatively drink my tea and relax at the same time ,which, if we’re looking for causation, seems more likely to be the underlying cause of the improved sleep quality.
Another fun little feature of this app is that it has an alarm clock in it that is supposed to wake you up at the natural point of being “most awake” in your sleep cycle.  You give it a window of time (I have mine set to 30 minute window) and it notices when you start having “wakeful” body movements and the alarm goes off at that point, avoiding your “deep sleep” time.  This works great if you have a somewhat flexible schedule or if you’re ok with potentially waking up 30 minutes before you really need to be awake.  I really like this feature so far although I can't really tell how well it works because I have small children who are serving as my true alarm clocks.  I do think I have had fewer or those really really groggy awakenings you sometimes get from an alarm when it wakes you out of a deep sleep by using this app as my alarm clock.
Moving on.  I collected the data.  I have numbers.  NOW WHAT? If I was sitting down with myself in my office I would say:  make small changes, set achievable goals. And this is where it gets hard for me, and hard for everyone who tries to make behavioral changes (because if it was easy we would have all done it already, right?) the actual change part is so painful!  I honestly love sleep and I am fortunate to be a really good sleeper once I get there, so again, you would think it would be easy to do more of something you love to do!  But I also like getting shit done, especially with my level of daily anxiety.  I have become accustomed to having more time in the day to do the things that I feel are important and if I spend more of that time sleeping, I will have less time.  The thought of having less time in the day may just throw me into a panic attack right at this very moment!  I know I need to shift my paradigm; what needs to be done all comes down to perspective, but again, those big shifts in thinking are hard and so I’ll try to refocus on the small stuff.  My first goal is to try to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night for the next 4 days; small and achievable.  I have noticed, through this sleep cycle app, that on the rare occasion I do get more than 7 hours of sleep, that I tend to choose the “smiley face” when I wake up.  This is not going to be easy, but more smiley faces has got to mean something good.  I’ll let you know how it goes!