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Archive for the ‘Choices’ Category

No Duds

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

I am finicky when it comes to chocolates.  I’m a big dessert person, but not a big candy person.  If I’m going to indulge in something so unabashedly rich and indulgent, I want to really love it.  If I bite into a chocolate and discover orange crème (ugh…) I throw it out.  Not worth it.  (Also, orange crème is kind of gross.)  My favorites are Russell Stover’s Roman Nougat and Teuscher Champagne Truffles.  Those I will eat until I hate myself.  Anything else gets a lukewarm response out of me.

IEP’s approach differs greatly from my own.  In his world it’s quite simple.  There are no duds.  Period.  All chocolates are wonderful.  All chocolates are treats.  No filling – not cherry caramel, not coconut, not even orange crème – yields disappointment.   

I first noticed this back in December when my mother included a one-pound box of assorted chocolates amongst IEP’s other Christmas gifts.  (And I was reminded of it again when she gave him a much smaller box on a recent visit.)  He eagerly made his way through the box (with some help, of course) without expressing a single concern about what he would find inside.  I’d never seen anyone pick chocolates out of a box without even asking about the filling.  It was a complete nonissue.  I was astounded.  Perhaps it was because in my family growing up finding sneaky (and always unsuccessful) ways to investigate fillings before committing to a chocolate was at least common practice if not full-throttle sport.  You did not want to bite into something without knowing first whether it was going to be good.  But in IEP’s brain there’s no reason to even ask what’s inside.  It’s candy.  Of course it’s going to be good.

It’s a mindset that many of us would do well to apply to our lives more often.  Many of us struggle to maintain such a strong sense of positivity and we too easily find what went wrong in a given situation, rather than what went right.  To a great extent we choose how we experience the world arround us.  Choosing to see the good can go a long way in our enjoyment of many things.  Sitting down to read a book is always a treat (even if we get interrupted).  Going out to a movie is always a treat (even if the show wasn’t that great).  Eating food that someone else prepared is always a treat (even if it wasn’t precisely what you were in the mood for).  Getting out for a nice long run is always a treat (even if you take more walk breaks than you wish you had).  And eating a chocolate is always a treat, even if there’s orange crème on the inside.

Optimism and positivity can also run amok.  When we constantly proclaim that everything is good, nothing is ever wrong, and we only see joy and happiness everywhere we look we cease to see the world honestly.  We must allow space for the real and genuine admissions of the things we find disappointing, hurtful, or lacking in some way.  But given how easy it is to go down the rabbit hole of all that goes wrong, I think that for many of us (myself included), a course correction to IEP’s “there are no duds” philosophy could be a very good thing.

I expect that someday my son’s approach to chocolates may become more conventional.  Someday he may develop preferences that lead him to poke a hole in the bottom, bite off a corner, or slice a chocolate completely in half before popping it into his mouth.  But in the meantime I will applaud his open-mindedness and optimism.  And I will try to adopt it myself.

Stress Test

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

I had to fill out a questionnaire about my health for work.  Do I smoke?  Do I exercise?  Do I get regular check-ups?  That sort of thing.  These types of questions usually leave me feeling a smidge proud because my truthful answers are almost always the “right” ones.  When it comes to matters of health, I play it pretty much by the book.

The end of the survey threw me for a loop, though.  It asked you to indicate within what timeframe (one month, three months, etc.) you intend to make a change in various aspects of your life.  The lifestyle issues in question were to quit smoking, exercise more, eat better, get more sleep, and handle stress better.  For the first four I was able to happily mark the “I already do this” box.  But for stress… I did a double take.  I don’t remember which box I ended up checking, but in my heart of hearts I know I have some work to do there.

Lots of fellow bloggers have written lately about Gretchen Rubin’s new book “Happier at Home.”  I’m also in the middle of it, and have found myself doing some good but hard thinking in response.  Rubin’s aim with this most recent happiness project was to make her home into a place that fosters her happiness.  This effort speaks to me because it is my home that I find to be my biggest source of stress.

It is not my home itself that causes me stress.  Yes, it is an old house with a handful of ongoing maintenance to-dos, but nothing too significant (last spring’s pipe replacement nightmare notwithstanding).  Rather, it is the rotation of weekly chores and obligations that wear on me the most.  For the past two consecutive weekends I have literally sat down to relax only for as long as it takes me to eat a meal.  By Sunday evening I’ve found myself satisfied with my level of industry, but utterly and completely spent.  And while I crave a hyper-productive weekend every now and then, the prospect of gearing up for one every single week leaves me cold.  I’m not sure how to get the equation of my weekend back into balance, though.  The tactical elements of it are not interesting enough to discuss here – I’ll get it figured out – but the existential elements are.

Why is the impact of these stressors at home so much greater than stressors in other areas of my life?  When my job leaves me feeling unraveled I don’t take it to heart nearly as much.  When I get stuck in traffic I don’t assume that it’s a personal failing.  Yet when I feel stressed out at home the stress itself is compounded by the belief that I’m to blame for it.  It’s not a happy feeling.

In a recent post over at Motherese Kristen cited a NYT blog article about how American’s pursuit of happiness has left us statistically more anxiety-riddled than any other nation.  The piece was interesting from a cultural point of view, written by a recent British transplant who noted that Brits find discussion of happiness to be a bit crude and desperate.  The numbers about our rates of anxiety are compelling, and I understand how idealism about happiness can leave us comparatively disappointed, but somehow I still find myself opposed to the implicit premise that this means we should stop seeking it.

I know what I want.  I want each weekend to be filled with a balance of productivity and pleasure.  When Sunday evening rolls around I want to feel that I have been fortified by two days off and am ready to face the week.  Knowing what I want – and acknowledging it – is the only way to make any sort of progress toward it.  Keeping myself blissfully unaware of my desires may prevent disappointment, but it is also a sure path to continued frustration and stress.

Reading “Happier at Home” has been a wake up call, of sorts.  I want to be happier at home.  Specifically, I want to be happier on weekends.  Unlike getting stuck in traffic or being handed a monster project at work, this one is completely within my control.  That makes it both worse (because only I am to blame for any unhappiness I feel) and better (because in the long run I believe in my ability to change things).  I will not hold up some fictitious ideal and compare myself to it until I have no choice but sheer misery.  But neither will I avoid the topic altogether just to keep myself out of the emotional muck.

I will take it one task at a time until I’ve shuffled the deck of my life at home into a configuration that is better suited to support my happiness.  My first task?  Keeping it all in perspective.  This will work itself out in time.  Stressing over stress is not the first step in any happiness solution.

In Defense of the Rut

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

I eat the same thing for breakfast every morning: whole wheat toast, yogurt, fruit, and hot chocolate.  This is partly because it is healthy, partly because I like it, and partly because eating the same breakfast every day makes morning logistics much smoother.  I’d been thinking that maybe I need to mix things up a bit, that I was stuck in a rut that I ought to climb out of.  But a few things I’ve read recently have me second guessing that idea.

First I read Big Little Wolf’s post about the thousands of decisions we make in a day.  She starts out with a rundown of the decisions she makes in the first five minutes of her day, and it exhausted me just reading it.  I hadn’t thought about the sheer number of decisions we make, as so many of them are made in a split second, and have few lasting consequences.  Shower first or breakfast first?  Neither one is going to make or break the day.  But as BLW’s post continues she discusses the virtues of routine, of making a decision once, and implementing it over and over so that each time we take the action the thought behind it is minimal.  (Another example, I decided once which was the best route to work.  I don’t decide every single morning how I want to get there.)

Then, in Gretchen Rubin’s new book, “Happier at Home” she mentions the issue of willpower.   For her a component of increasing her happiness is to abstain from things she will later regret – Christmas candy being the indulgence in question on page 120.  Alongside her discussion of her own desires to curb holiday candy munching she writes,

Researcher Roy Baumeister has shown that we start each day with a limited amount of self-control, and as we use it – when we resist saying something inappropriate, wrench our thoughts away from a topic, … or make tough decisions – we gradually deplete it.  As our self-control gets used up, we find it harder to resist new temptations.  If I use self-control to respond nicely to a nasty e-mail, it’s harder to me to refrain from speaking sharply to my daughters.  If I resist eating from the restaurant’s bread basket, I may end up eating half of [my husband's] dessert.

In reflecting on this passage, and juxtaposing it with BLW’s post, I’ve come to a convenient conclusion: When it comes to healthy habits, ruts – or less pejoratively, routines – are a wonderful thing.  They free us from the drain of tiny decisions and they prevent us from depleting our cache of self-control too quickly.

Having routines can facilitate all sorts of good behavior.  Not eating bacon for breakfast every morning takes no self-control because it offers no temptation since it isn’t part of my routine.  I don’t have to decide to floss at bedtime each night, I just do it as part of my routine.  I don’t have to haul myself out the door to walk the dogs each morning because it’s just part of my day.  Not surprisingly, areas of my life that are less routinized are more subject to decisions I may regret.  I’m only sort-of diligent about packing my lunch each day.  My stomach starts growling at 11:15 almost every day, which means that by the time noon rolls around I’m much more likely to give in to a buffalo chicken wrap and fries in the company cafeteria.  Also, despite my best intentions my observation of a bedtime is weak, which means that when a ballgame is tied or a blog post isn’t yet written (ahem…) I end up getting to bed much later than I’d like.

I’m not here to say that our lives should be completely programmed.  Diversion from such routines is, I think, what brings surprise and delight into our lives.  The inability to stray from our routines ends up making us slaves to them, which is no way to improve any aspect of your life.  But most of us live our day-to-day lives in a lather, rinse, repeat mode – at least to some extent.  This means that whatever decisions become routinized may be small within the confines of each specific day, but are magnified significantly when extrapolated out over weeks or months or years.  So if I make a good decision once, and then implement it every day I get the benefit of that good decision without the stress of making it over and over and charging against my “bank” of self-control.

All of a sudden my toast and yogurt aren’t looking so bad.  Now if I could just get past the fries.

They Deserved Better

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

It wasn’t in any way shocking yesterday when I read that International Cycling Union (UCI) was stripping Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles.  We all saw it coming.  The storm had been brewing for weeks, if not months or years.  So when I learned that he’d been banned from cycling altogether via UCI President’s Pat McQuaid’s statement that, “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling,” it was just about what I expected.

‘Twas not always thus, though, was it?  In retrospect it all feels a bit foolish, I think.  Our unflagging support.  Our unquestioning allegiance.    

The unlikelihood of a reign like his was what made it so great.  That he beat the odds, at life and at sport, made him the hero that we all wanted to believe in.  Unfortunately, things that seem too good to be true often are.  Now, of course, we know that this was the case with Lance Armstrong.  Having been exposed for participating in the, “most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme sport has ever seen,” his fall from grace has been swift and comprehensive.

As for the pedestal of shame on which he sits today, he earned it, but my heart goes out to his kids.  His older son is about 13 and his older daughters are about 11.  They are old enough to remember helping him accept his final trophy in 2005.  And they are certainly old enough to have believed that their dad was the hero and champion we all thought he was.

I love my dad immensely.  And he was absolutely the hero of my own childhood.  But I have to imagine that spending your childhood looking up to a father who was not only your hero, but a hero to an entire sport, and (on certain days of certain summers) to an entire nation, is an altogether different experience.  What pride they must have felt and how tall they must have stood knowing that their dad was Lance Armstrong, conquerer of cancer and winner of more Tour de France titles than anyone in history.

I started thinking about his older kids yesterday.  Eleven and 13.  You’d be hard pressed to pick a more difficult time of life – a time more plagued with insecurity and more infected with adolescent meanness.  The middle school years are brutal enough on their own.  What fresh hell must they be for these kids now, having to walk into school with the knowledge that it was all a lie, that their dad cheated, and everyone knows it.

Perhaps I’m overblowing it.  Perhaps Armstrong’s kids are being left alone throughout this mess.  Perhaps my concerns are for naught.  But even amidst the most gracious of pre-teens his children won’t emerge from this unscathed.  I feel betrayed by Armstrong and I’m not even a cyclist or a follower of the sport.  The disillusionment they must be feeling far exceeds anything I’ve ever experienced.

I’m sure a lot of people are feeling let down by Lance Armstrong.  But there are five in total, and three in particular, who will feel this sting longer and stronger than any of the rest of us.  They deserved better than this.

Once In A Lifetime

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

After I got over the initial shock that Marissa Mayer is only three years older than I am, I became fascinated with her decision to accept Yahoo’s offer to become its next CEO.  I was not fascinated because she’s a women, or because she’s only 37 years old.  I was fascinated because she is roughly six-and-a-half months pregnant.  (Are you getting this, Sheryl Sandberg?)

I quickly hit Wikipedia and a few other sites to do some reconnaissance work.

What I learned:  She went to Stanford.  She got into computers through a gen-ed class called something along the lines of “Computer Science for Non-majors.”  She discovered her passion for programming and started at Google as its 20th employee when she was 24 years old.  When she took the job she estimated that the company had a 2% chance at survival.  She’s been a VP for the past several years and is apparently well-known and highly regarded in the tech world.  She has an estimated net worth of $300 million.

And, upon further reflection, I also learned that I do not envy Marissa Mayer.

No two mothers are entirely alike.  I can no more speak for Marissa Mayer than I can for Queen Elizabeth or a migrant worker.  So I will not say that she’s making a huge mistake because I don’t know that she is.  This is clearly and truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  She is smart and talented and motivated.  And if you are the type of woman who rises to the level of VP at Google by the age of 37, then you are probably also the type of person who accepts the CEO role at Yahoo, pregnant or not.

Nevertheless, I worry about Marissa Mayer.  I wish this were her second child.  I wish I felt that she knew what she is walking into.  I wish that I were sure she understood the significance of the now-well-circulated statement “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not worried about the baby.  Mayer will certainly have full-time (if not live-in) help and the baby will be well cared for.  And I’m not worried about the company.  She knows what’s on the line here and with extensive help with her son she will be able to dedicate the time she needs to her job.  What I worry about is that she is sacrificing one of the most seminal moments of motherhood without realizing it.

Those first few weeks at home with your baby are precious.  They are also maddening and vicious in many ways.  But they are fragile and fleeting. ( They may not be “once in a lifetime,” but for most women they don’t come more than two or three times in a life.)  Very rarely does society grant any of us permission to cocoon away for weeks at a time and make our worlds so incomparably small.  Maternity leave is one in a very limited cadre of life experiences that allows such an existence, and Mayer has kissed hers goodbye before she even got her hands on it.  It breaks my heart.

The flip side to this coin, of course (remember, no two mothers are alike…), is that no woman was ever faulted for not pursuing a CEO position.  No woman who chose to stay home, or dial back her career, or coast for a bit was ever called out with the rally cry of, “But how can you sacrifice the chance to gun for a high-powered career when you haven’t experienced for yourself how satisfying it is?”  No woman (at least no woman I know) has ever had to defend herself against that question.  Marissa Mayer is charting new waters.  She is doing something only a very tiny collection of people has done.  She is charged with turning around a major organization in dire need of energy and redirection.  Perhaps the rush and reward of that experience will far surpass the experience of naps and baby snuggles that defined my maternity leaves.  I won’t ever know, though, because I won’t ever be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Nevertheless, there’s a reason that our nation is all a-buzz with talk of what this new pairing means.  New motherhood is one of life’s most taxing experiences.  So is running a major and floundering company.  Doing them both concurrently is a precarious proposition by any standard.  And I hope – I sincerely hope – that it works out well.   I hope that for Mayer herself, and for every woman whose professional future in any way rests on our culture’s ability to believe in a young woman’s ability to meet a challenge head on.

Follow Your Bliss

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

The old adage goes that you should figure out what you love to do so much that you’d do it for free, and then find a way to get paid for it.  I don’t doubt the wisdom of this advice, but I wonder how many people actually follow it.

I started thinking about this over the weekend when GAP and I went to see Gavin DeGraw and Colbie Caillat in concert.  They were both terrific, but the pleasant surprise of the evening was the opening act, Andy Grammer.  I thought I’d never heard of him until he started playing and then I immediately recognized his music.

The reason his part of the show was so enjoyable was because it was riddled with technical difficulties.  Ironic?  Yes, but nonetheless true.  Just as he and his band kicked off their opening number the sound blew out.  Undeterred, Grammer sang an entirely acoustic version of his first song.  The audience quieted down so that we could hear him, singing along in tones so hushed that he actually stopped and laughed.  He handled the glitches with grace, humor, and a deft hand indicating that despite not being the show’s headliner he had clearly logged his 10,000 hours.

Eventually the sound problems were resolved and the show resumed.  As Grammer’s set went on I learned via his between-song commentary that he got his start as a busker in Santa Monica.  He spent three years earning his rent money via donations tossed into his guitar case.  He commented that his family thought he was crazy, but he kept after it, which naturally prompted me to wonder what I love doing so much that I would do it in exchange for other people’s pocket change all while facing the gentle ridicule of my friends and family.

Clearly I’m past the place in life that would afford me such liberties.  I have two kids who need and deserve a happy and stable life.  Even if I did decide today that I had the passion to make a run of it as a rock star, actress, painter, or writer I’m quite sure that the career path I’ve forged in marketing is the path I will keep.  But what about my more formative years?  The start of my adult life was quite calculated – entry level desk job, sensible one-bedroom apartment, etc.  Apart from the risk of moving to a new city it was all very by-the-book.  Did I ever have whatever spark it takes to pack up and follow my bliss?

The implication here, of course, is that to follow your bliss you must make a gamble.  You must scrimp along on a shoestring budget while waiting for some bigger dream to come true.  You must risk failure and perhaps existential crisis of some kind.  But is that true?  Can you not follow your bliss in a more risk-averse way?  It seems this gambling requirement is true of artists, but I’m not sure it holds true for the population at large.

On Friday night we attended the surgical residency graduation dinner of a cousin of mine.  As a very little boy he underwent back-to-back open heart surgeries.  As an adolescent he decided that it was his dream to become a doctor.  And not just any doctor; a pediatric cardio-thoracic surgeon who could save children’s lives just as his was saved.  Earlier this spring he performed, for the first time, the exact same surgery on a child that was performed on him.  It was, quite literally, the culmination of all his professional dreams since he was 12 years old, and it didn’t happen by accident.  It was the end result of decades’ worth of education, training, and strategic planning.  And it was most certainly his bliss.

I think the problem here is not that we don’t know how to follow our bliss once we’ve found it.  It’s that we don’t know how to find it in the first place.  Don’t get me wrong, I am blissfully happy in most areas of my life.  However, I wouldn’t say that career is one of them.  I have a job that suits my interests and skill sets and utilizes my education.  I am reasonably compensated for it and by and large I find my work satisfying.  I wouldn’t, however, say that I feel blissful about it.  So why don’t I follow my bliss (apart, of course, from the aforementioned responsibilities of parenthood)?

Well, if we’re being quite honest, I’m not sure I know what my bliss is.  Barring any concern for the kind of living I could make, it probably has something to do with horses.  But back when I was laying the groundwork for my career I knew well that the life I wanted to live could not be supported by a career as a horse trainer.  I rarely wonder what my life might look like if I’d sacrificed lifestyle for bliss, because I have a largely happy life.  Every now and then, though, I run into someone like Andy Grammer and think about the path not taken.

At the very least, I’m happy that Andy Grammer followed his bliss.  Watching him perform was a real treat.  And when you get down to it I suppose I shouldn’t question my decisions too much.  Because it was the career in marketing that enabled me to afford the tickets.

Do Not Disturb

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

When I was a kid we didn’t answer the phone during supper.  It was a pretty strict rule that was only broken if an important call was expected.  Supper was a special time set aside for talking and spending time together without interruption.  As I think about that now I am struck with a big sense of nostalgia.  Can you imagine that a phone call to your landline was the only opportunity for supper to be interrupted?  That, for sure, is a bygone era.

Today our cell phones – on our persons almost all the time – buzz at us constantly.  And phone calls are the least of the distractions.  We are also notified of incoming e-mails, meeting reminders, text messages, Facebook updates, and Scrabble turns.  Sometimes it seems there’s no end to the electronic shoulder tapping we face each day.  And, not surprisingly, we’ve come to expect, want, and even need such constant input from our gadgets.  You would think that the cell phone companies would be laughing all the way to the bank – and for the most part I think they are – but earlier this week there was a tiny shift in that paradigm.  For the first time ever, a cell phone company conceded that less interaction with our mobile devices might be in order.

Amidst all of the buzz about the new MacBook Pro at its Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday, Apple announced a new feature to the iPhone: the Do Not Disturb setting.  Basically it allows all of the incoming data to be registered by your phone, but doesn’t announce their arrival to you.  So as you sit there at dinner, or in a movie theatre, or working a jigsaw puzzle on the floor with your kids your phone sits silently as though no one were trying to reach you at all.  Only when you pick the thing up and activate its touch screen will you see the calls, texts, and e-mails that you’ve missed.

As I’ve thought about this feature over the past couple of days a few themes have stuck in my mind.  For starters, I’m mightily impressed with Apple for being forthright about the role that cell phones play and for admitting that there is a point at which they detract rather than add value to our lives.  But I’ve also had some mixed emotions about it.

When you get right down to it, our cell phones have always had a Do Not Disturb setting: the power switch.  We’ve always had the opportunity to set boundaries for ourselves.  We’ve just never done a very good job of it.  And as our phones have evolved to become digital proxies for everything that happens in our lives our reluctance to separate ourselves from them has only grown.

Mobile phones aren’t the only electronic distraction rendering us largely devoid of self-control either.  The internet itself, while incalculably valuable in today’s world, is probably the most utilized time suck in the history of man.  I’m pretty confident that more hours have been wasted online than with any other single medium.  This theory is further solidified by the popularity of the internet-blocking compeer application called “Freedom.”  According to its website, “Freedom is the world-famous app that locks you away from the ‘net so you can be productive.  If the internet is distracting you from your work, Freedom might be the best 10 dollars you’ll ever spend.”

Apparently we are weak, weak, weak in the face of technology; so much so that we require new software programs and features to help us meter its presence in our lives.  We can’t just turn the phone off while we eat dinner, or close the web browser when we need to do actual work.  We can’t trust ourselves to exercise any kind of restraint and so we have turned to digital handcuffs to keep our focus where we want it to be.  And I’m not sure how that sits with me.

Is it better to admit our weaknesses and work around them?  Or should we be able to conquer them without artificial legs up?

I suppose I’m inclined to believe that admitting a weakness and taking steps to work around it is superior to denying that the battle exists and continuing to lose it.  Nevertheless, I think it’s worth exploring why we, as a culture, have come to rely so heavily on constant input, feedback, and stimulus from the digital world.  The reasons, of course, are myriad.  (We are expected to respond to work e-mail at all hours just because it can reach us at all hours.  We have come to rely on texting for short snippets of conversation.  We crave the affirmation afforded by likes and comments on Facebook status updates.)  But just because we can explain something doesn’t mean we can justify it.

In a perfect world perhaps we would be better able to exercise restraint in the face of temptation.  But as it is I guess I’m just glad we have the tools to take temptation off the table altogether.

Thunder Up!

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Do you know what tonight is?  Do you?  Tonight is the first game of the NBA Finals.  And guess what has two thumbs and actually cares?  This girl!  That’s right, boys and girls.  Gale, who has never cared a nit about professional basketball in her entire life has become an avid fan in the past three weeks.

Why this new and unbridled enthusiasm?  I’ll tell you.  One of the teams in the NBA Finals is the Oklahoma City Thunder.  That’s right.  One of the teams in the Finals is from my home state.  It’s a Christmas miracle!

This is a big deal to me because Oklahoma had never had a professional sports team until the Thunder (formerly the SuperSonics) up and relocated from Seattle four years ago.  (Because, really, when you pit those two cities against each other, OKC wins every time, right?)  And I’ll be perfectly honest and tell you that until the Thunder started plowing their way through the playoffs I still wasn’t paying much attention.  But in the past couple of weeks being from Oklahoma has been really fun.  We’re doing something well!  The nation is watching!  And my home state is making us all proud!

GAP says this now-that-they’re-in-the-Finals-I’ll-be-a-fan approach is what they call, um, er, “jumping on the bandwagon,” but I don’t care.  It’s not often that a girl gets to be proud of being from Oklahoma.  I have a lot of affection for my home state because it is my home state.  But in recent years it seems I’m usually making some sort of half-hearted apology for it, rather than walking around proclaiming my heritage.  (Incidents like this one and this one are to blame.)  These past few weeks, though?  I’ve claimed it with pride.  Along with all of my other fellow Okies, I’m ready to “Thunder Up!”

However, amidst planning Game 1 viewing parties and reading about how Kevin Durant made “the leap,” I’ve also given some thought to fair-weather fandom.  As many of you know, I’m a huge Cardinals baseball fan; a from birth Cardinals fan.  That’s usually pretty easy though.  The Cards are an amazing franchise with a storied history and some incredible seasons in recent years.  Being a Cards fan is a lot of fun.  (Moreso than, say, being a Cubs fan…)  But I know a lot of people who slog through one after another losing season because they are loyal to their team.  And I don’t knock that.  It’s hard core and it takes faith and humility in vast quantities.  But I am here to say that I think there’s no shame in jumping on the bandwagon of a winning team.

Sports, when you get down to their essence, are games.  ”I’ll bet I can throw more balls into this bushel basket than you can.”  We play them and watch them because they are fun.  Sure, in today’s world they are huge industries too.  But once upon a time they were all merely pastimes played for amusement.  Despite whatever extent to which our identities may be wrapped up in our teams, I think we should always be able to participate in sports – either as a player or a fan – just for fun.  And if that means riding the coattails of a winning team, then so be it.

Obviously, I hope the Thunder win the NBA title.  But more than anything, I hope I have a lot of fun watching the games.  I’m here for a good time.  No more.  No less.  So bring on the pizza and Cokes and cheers and jeers.  I have a team and I’m loving my view from the bandwagon.  Thunder up!!!

Sugar High

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

I’ve been living it up lately.

Every day at work I eat my lunch.  And every day when I finish eating I walk up to the check-out line of the company cafeteria and pay for a chocolate chip cookie that is about four inches in diameter and a fountain soda.  And it always hits the spot.  This daily treat probably runs me about 600 calories.  Under normal circumstances such a delightful sin might be a once-a-month occasion, if that.  But lately I’m doing it every day.  Why?  Simple. …  Because I can.

Nursing a baby is a huge commitment and a lot of work.  The bonuses are two-fold.  Most importantly, it’s good for my baby.  Secondarily, the calories it burns afford me the opportunity to eat more or less whatever I want.  This doesn’t mean that I eat junk food every day.  On the contrary, I’m aware that whatever I eat so does SSP.  So I take care to eat a balanced diet that is good for both of us.  But I justify my “cookie and a Coke” habit with the premise that I can take such liberties with my diet only for a limited time, so I had better take advantage while I can.  Hooray, I thought.  Bring it on!

Then 60 Minutes had to go and rain on my parade.

Their recent piece on the toxic nature of sugar was a total buzzkill for me.  The net of it is this: “When a person consumes too much sweet stuff, the liver gets overloaded with fructose and converts some of it into fat. Some of that fat ends up in the bloodstream and helps generate a dangerous kind of cholesterol called small dense LDL. These particles are known to lodge in blood vessels, form plaque and are associated with heart attacks.”  In addition to the heart disease risks, sugar is associated with increased cancer risks and has been shown on fMRI to be as addictive as cocaine.

Then The Huffington Post doubled down with a pair of articles (here and here) endorsing the 60 Minutes piece and echoing the evils of sugar.

Ugh.

So what’s a girl to do?  What is any of us to do?

Should we heed this doomsday – and scientifically substantiated (grrrrr) – news?  Or should we take it with a grain of salt?  All of this new research on sugar is depressing at best, foreboding at worst.  Are we to believe that sugar is like tobacco, and any amount of consumption is to be avoided at all costs?  Or is it more like alcohol, something that can be damaging and addictive when consumed irresponsibly and in excess, but which can also be enjoyed in moderation without any real harm?

If I were overweight, or diagnosed with diabetes or hypertension then I would not sit here wondering whether or not I should ditch my daily sugar high.  But I’m really healthy.  My cholesterol level are great.  I exercise daily.  I drink lots of water and eat lots of vegetables.  At my most recent physical my doctor told me that I am “built to last.”  Given all this, can I afford to to continue my sugar-laden indulgences?  Or is the fact that I can afford the calories irrelevant?

I can tell you this: as soon as SSP is weaned I will drop this habit.  My soda consumption will drop back to about one a week.  And my dessert proclivities will be substantially adjusted as well.  But can I afford to throw caution to the winds for the next seven months?  Or do I need to dial it back now?  Given what I’m learning about sugar I’m inclined to modify my habits sooner than my baby’s first birthday.  (Also, the novelty of my cookie/Coke habit is slowly fading.)  But at the same time I want to believe that in the context of an otherwise completely healthy lifestyle, it’s not that big a deal.

It’s my one vice and it’s temporary.  But I care a great deal about my health.  Truly, I’m torn.

A Perfect Fit

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

IEP at Nanny's wedding rehearsal last weekend.

She knew the sign for “cereal.”  That was the thing that first stuck out in my mind about our nanny when we interviewed her more than three years ago.  Amidst versions of the same conversation about tummy time, play-based teaching, redirecting, and emergency scenario planning that we had with all of the other candidates, I remember our nanny wiggling her index finger under her chin and making the sign for cereal.  I don’t know why I keyed in on it so much, but I did.

That was when IEP was 11 weeks old.  Now he is nearly three and a half and Nanny has spent nearly every weekday with him since then.  And I’ve never questioned our hiring decision.  We went with our gut, and it was the right call.

However, the nannying industry isn’t the juggernaut here in the Midwest that it is in many larger cities – specifically New York.  Hiring a nanny in this neck of the woods was overwhelming enough to us as rookies three years ago, but nothing like it would have been in Manhattan.  I think I could have told you that based on instinct a long time ago.  But I can tell you that for a fact after having read this article about the “bizarre microeconomy”  of super high end nannies in New York.

You should read the article yourself, because I’m confident you will walk away reeling at the amount of money a very few people are willing to pay for their childcare.

Author Adam Davidson describes a $180,000 a year nanny and her cadre of skills when it comes to getting young children to brush their teeth and take their baths.  Now I’m all for a smooth bedtime routine, but $180,000?  Really?

I think anyone paying $180,000 for a nanny is getting snookered.  Either 1) they have far more money than brains, in which case I feel sorry for them because they’re in for a lifetime of snookering; or 2) they are paying through the nose for their nanny just so they can say they have a six-figure nanny, in which case they’ve made their bed; or 3) they were too lazy to interview candidates in any substantive manner and just assumed that the most expensive was the best, in which case they’re getting just what was coming to them.  But any way you slice it, they’ve been taken to the cleaners.  This isn’t to say that excellent childcare isn’t exceedingly valuable.  It is just to say that common sense ought to factor into the calculus somewhere.

Raising children is hard work.  Getting kids to eat their vegetables, brush their teeth, pick up their rooms, stop fighting over toys, and remember to say please and thank you is tiring for everyone involved.  And anyone who can make these affairs run smoothly on a daily basis is worth her weight in gold.  (Figuratively speaking, of course.  If we were talking literally the $180,000 salary would buy you a 6.75 pound nanny for a year at today’s gold prices.)  But with a little creativity and clear definition of exactly who is in charge a whole range of people can do it.  There are so many ways to skin this cat.

Getting a household with kids to run like a well-oiled machine is difficult, but not impossible.  It doesn’t require acts of God or magic.  It requires a lot of patience, a lot of persistence, a lot of creativity, and a willingness to discipline.  And there are a lot of people who are able to do it effectively.

You can show me an amazing Alexander McQueen dress in a size six and I may love it.  But I won’t buy it because I don’t wear a size six.  Just because it is exquisite and expertly crafted doesn’t mean that it fits me.  And if it doesn’t fit me I would be a fool to pay $8,000 for it.  The tricky thing about a nanny is that you don’t really know until you’ve hired her whether she’s good at her job and a good fit for your family.  The high dollar candidate may be a perfect fit for someone, but that doesn’t mean she’ll be a perfect fit for you.