Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why I write

I've kept a journal for as long as I can remember. I started writing down my thoughts from the time I was in grade school and kept journals through my mid-thirties. My writing changed when I started this blog. No one, not even me, would want to read the sort of drivel I wrote in my journal on a daily basis. Nonsense, ramblings, internal drama that I needed to work out. It was cathartic at the time, but as a general rule I don't like reading back over my journal entries. The exception to this is when I wrote while traveling or living abroad - my journal entries take me right back to a camel ride in Cairo, a trail run in Vienna, a bottle of wine sipped underneath the Eiffel Tower...

I purchased these beautiful journals while living in Florence. They make me want to return to pen and paper. 

For me, writing blog posts is very different than writing in a journal. There are pros and cons and I waver back and forth as to which forum I like best. I am careful about what I write in this space, while I had zero filter when I wrote with paper and pen. I edit, rewrite, and sometimes censor my own thoughts and words on this blog. I stay true to myself always, but I think twice about revealing certain things or about how a particular story might sound to others. And unlike my journals, I enjoy going back through my blog posts and re-reading them now and then.

I came across this article the other day that considers whether the power of writing your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.
The concept is based on the idea that we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.
There are times when I am just itching to write about something that happened - knowing the process will bring clarity and resolution. I write about my struggles with balancing career and family on this blog often because the process of telling my story, even if no one reads or responds, helps me find perspective. Writing about a challenge or an unexpected triumph helps me learn and continue to grow. Writing ensures the experience doesn't leave me but continues to exist, stamped in time. 

These writing interventions can really nudge people from a self-defeating way of thinking into a more optimistic cycle that reinforces itself......Writing forces people to reconstrue whatever is troubling them and find new meaning in it.

If you've never written your way through something that is troubling you, I highly encourage you to try. It can be for your eyes only, or you could find your brave and send your thoughts out into vast cyberspace. You might be surprised by how it feels to write and rewrite your story.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Finding the perfect food plan

Photo courtesy of Outside Magazine. 

I stumbled across this article that appeared in Outside magazine a few years ago. This man tried 6 different diet plans over the course of a year, two months on each plan. He chose popular diet plans like the paleo diet, the Mediterranean diet, and one based on the USDA food pyramid. He had his cholesterol, body fat and weight measured during and at the end of each diet.  His health improved on some diets, declined on others. He was more hungry and tired on one diet compared to the others. It was a very interesting experiment in food, and I like the final analysis. There is no one ideal eating plan for anyone.Our bodies and our goals (fitness, weight loss, over all health) are all different and our food plans should be too. Do you know what works for you?

Our eating plan of choice is mostly the Mediterranean diet (they had me at the red wine!) with juice or smoothies for breakfast and copious cheating on the weekends. We try to eat with the seasons and use local produce whenever possible. We love to cook and we enjoy all things in moderation. It's pretty simple, really.

We eat the way we do because we enjoy the food and we want to be healthy. And I also want to pass on healthy food habits to my children. I try not to present foods to the kids as healthy or good for them (I learned that trick from this article). I simply give them the same foods Ryan and I are eating and ask them to try a 'polite bite.' We leave it at that. They either like it and eat it, or they don't like it and leave it on their plates. If I keep serving that item regularly and giving it to the kids without comment, I've noticed that they eventually eat it. Without trying too hard, we've managed to get to a point where we have one meal at family dinners and the kids like what we're having. It feels like a success and I'm calling it such!

We struggled with family dinners for a long time (I wrote about it here and here). Perhaps the kids are finally at an age where it works - they can occupy themselves while I make dinner and they are old enough to appreciate the family time together. We are in that happy space where school activities are not crowding out dinner time, so I plan to enjoy it while I can.

A big issue impacting our waist lines today is portion size. This article and the accompanying photos of what 2000 calories look like are mind boggling.

The photo above shows what 2000 calories look like at the sandwich chain Potbelly.

And this pasta dinner adds up to 2000 calories at Olive Garden. The Cheesecake Factory has one single dish on its menu totaling 2000 calories!

In contrast, if you cook at home, this is what 2000 calories could look like, food for an entire day!

The take home message - if you cook it yourself, you know exactly what you are eating and you are likely to consume fewer total calories at each sitting. Something to think about.

Food photos courtesy of The New York Times.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

January Sugar Cure

Like everyone else this time of year, I am thinking about how to improve my health. I like to keep my health resolutions pretty simple. Move more, cook it yourself. Drink H2O.

But every January I feel the need to kick sugar to the curb. I have learned over the years that I am very sensitive to sugar's seduction and it doesn't take much to get me hooked. The holidays present endless opportunities to over indulge and it is tough to limit sugar - it is in everything. When I resort to a Starbuck's cinnamon dolce latte sometime in December (it just fits with the season) I know I am in a sugar rut. I feel sluggish and unhealthy and out of sorts.

Every New Year's Eve we have a blow out dinner party with friends - amazing and excellent food courses, all paired with wine and spirits. It is fantastic! And it puts me over the edge of the holiday food cliff. I can't wait until January when I can get back to consistent, healthy eating.

There is no need to diet or do anything drastic really, we just need to get back to our normal eating habits. We aim to eat fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein every day (I wrote about one of my favorite cookbooks for family meals here). We have pizza almost once a week, but we make a whole wheat crust from scratch and pile on the veggies. I don't buy sodas or processed foods like crackers, chips and cookies. If I crave a cookie, I have to make it myself. It doesn't happen as often as I'd like.

A typical weeknight dinner for us is grilled salmon, roasted vegetables (Brussel Sprouts, radishes, parsnips and onion) and brown rice. Iz will trade her parsnips for Charlie's Brussel sprouts but they otherwise clean their plates. Banana ice cream is a favorite guilt-free dessert - frozen bananas whipped up with a little almond milk in a blender - so good and so easy!

My surefire way of kicking the sugar habit and getting back on track in January is to juice. (I've written about my love of juicing previously). Call it a modified juice cleanse or my January Sugar Cure, either way, it does the trick. For 5 days I have juice for both breakfast and lunch and then a healthy dinner of lean protein, veggies and whole grains. The juices taste amazing, I feel less full and my digestive system gets a break. After only a day or two I feel energized rather than sluggish, and I crave healthy foods again - not sugar.

This strategy works for me throughout the year. If I slide back down the sugar hole, I juice for just a day or two and all is right with the world again. I couldn't juice all the time, nor would I recommend it. It is a temporary fix. It makes me feel light and energized, and the after effect is that I really appreciate and crave healthy, whole foods. It is a win-win.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Thursday, December 4, 2014

a work in progress

Hello blog (and any loyal readers out there). I've missed you! I haven't written lately because I just plain have not been able to find the time. Kindergarten and two pickup/drop-off locations is a game changer. You know how it feels when you turn the clock ahead for daylight savings and you lose an hour? I feel like that every day now. I am struggling to get everyone out the door in the morning with full tummies and in clean clothes. And then again at night everyone must eat, bathe, sleep. Basic events that have to happen and should be so easy but sometimes feel impossible (someone in our house is 3 years old. Need I say more??) We're all working on sight words and letter sounds. Learning to read is important stuff! And yet where does it fit in the mad dash of the post-work-pre-bed rush? It is a work in progress for sure.

I've written here in the past about the pros and cons of my career. I love the variety of my days that sometimes have me in the research lab or in the classroom, in meetings, on the road, in my office sorting through data or reviewing manuscripts for publication. My job is flexible and there are days when I can work from home, put in a load of laundry, prep for dinner and feel way ahead of my game. It isn't always easy, but I can schedule doctor's appointments and plan to be the mystery reader in Charlie's school. I can even manage the occasional impromptu trip to the park on an unexpectedly warm late Fall afternoon. This flexibility is the reason I keep doing what I'm doing.

The downside to my job is the need to fund my research with external grants. Academic researchers like me typically get funding from the National Institutes of Health or from private agencies like the American Diabetes Association. NIH funding is the ultimate prize and comes with a healthy dose of respect from your peers and your department chair. With NIH funding I am my own boss, call my own shots and no one asks too many questions. I can hire researchers in the lab, take on new graduate students, dream up cool experiments and then carry them out. Life is good with an NIH grant.

For the past 4 1/2 years I've had an NIH grant. My grant will run out in 6 months.

The pressure to get another NIH grant is immense. Without another NIH grant, my research technician could lose his job and my graduate students might not be able to finish their dissertation work. My lab space would sit idle and empty. Success rates for NIH funding are the lowest they've been in 30 years (NPR did an entire series on dire NIH funding this past fall). Twenty years ago every grant submitted to the NIH had a 25-30% chance of being funded. My grant now has a 5% chance. The odds are seemingly impossible.

And yet, I must continue to pursue an NIH grant, or any sort of grant. It is what I was hired to do, it is the expectation of my job. At the same time, I can't let it consume me. I can't lose years of my life and my children's lives to the stress of a 5% payline. I will do my best. I don't want to fail - myself, the people in my lab, the university.  But I also can't fail my family. That is a price I am unwilling to pay.

I've missed writing in this space, documenting my days and cementing my memories in words. I feel like the crazy full days that are my life right now go by even faster when I can't stop to write and reflect upon them. This blog has allowed me to slow down and recognize the little and big things about raising my family that I always want to remember. I hope to make my way back here soon.

At the end of the day, I have this...

and I know it will all be OK.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Remembering Blue October

It is the second week of November and I'm just getting around to our pumpkin patch pictures taken a month ago. October for me was a whirlwind and all my time seemed to disappear in long baseball games and grant reviews. I love experiencing Fall and October with the kids - pumpkins and costumes and falling leaves are a welcome change from hot summer days. But it is also one of the busiest months of the year for me at work with grant reviews and travel that cause all my other daily work to pile up and up and up. The month finished in a frantic blur of our first kindergarten Halloween parade and class party, our last soccer game and end of season pizza party, pumpkin carving, and trick-or-treating. Somehow we fit it all in.  

Since the end of October, I've been enjoying the lull between holidays and pretending another one is not just around the corner. I'm looking back on this sunny day in October when we wore short sleeves, Royals' blue, and boots to the pumpkin patch and trying to make time stand still. I want Fall to stick around just a little bit longer... 

I know Charlie can't read this sign...but Ryan?!

I washed that Royals t-shirt more times than I can remember during October.

We took home all of these pumpkins, including the two biggest ones!