Tag Archives: health

Sweet Productivity

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It’s amazing what won’t get done in a day off of work.

A day off can often mean you, alone, in your house/apartment/cardboard box without much to do. Or a lot to do, which means you’ll be so intimidated by the task list that it may not get done anyway.

This is a very opportune time to buckle down and try that thing you’ve been hoping to try for several weeks.

For me, this meant healthy brownies.

I know that seems a little oxymoronic. After all, isn’t the point of eating a brownie supposed to be that it’s unhealthy?

My mother and I are health nuts. Over the years, I have become increasingly health conscious. It used to be I just wanted to lose weight, but my priorities have reordered themselves. Now it’s become a matter of eating what I need, not just what I want.

Occasionally, though, what I want and what I need happen to be the same thing.

In this case, it meant a brownie.

This wasn’t a normal brownie. It didn’t come from a mix, but it wasn’t your typical from-scratch variety either. Needless to say, they didn’t turn out very normally, either.

Rolled oats instead of flour meant they were more gooey and less cakey. Greek yogurt and egg whites instead of butter and oil meant they were a bit tangier and not as sweet. Half a cup of dark chocolate cocoa powder meant that the dark chocolaty-ness kind of kicked you in the teeth when you bit into one. Using unadulterated peanut butter as the drizzle on top meant that they were saltier than usual. Mixing all the ingredients in a blender instead of a mixer meant you were essentially baking a smoothie.

However, the yogurt, egg whites, and peanut butter meant that the brownies would be very high in protein, which made even a tiny brownie very filling. Like lembas. Chocolate is good for you—seriously, it’s a powerful antioxidant, which is wonderful for a lot of reasons. Oats meant the things were high in fiber, which is also wonderful. Lots of protein and lots of fiber are two things that athletically-challenged-and-therefore-we-run-to-stay-healthy people really, really need.

And if what we need comes in the form of a brownie, so much the better.

Plus, they taste delicious with coffee.

So a lot of my task list got ignored today because trying something new took precedence. I’m okay with that. I still managed to be productive—even if my productivity only yielded non-brownie brownies.

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Miles To Go

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I run. No, I don’t do half-marathons, nor can I carry on an intelligent conversation about the pros and cons of certain brands of running shoes. I can’t give advice on stretching, nor can I explain proper running form. I tie on cross-training shoes and run 3.10 miles, then I stop. That is the extent of my running prowess.

I run and I write. There are hundreds of interesting metaphors you can pull from running.

Such as what follows:

A semester at school is like a race—not so much a race against competitors as it is against yourself. You are your worst competition.

If you’re like me, the first few seconds before a run are murderous; you know the difficulties you’re going to face and you tell yourself that you’re crazy to do this…again. But you stretch—luxuriously, enjoying every second—and you start anyway. The only way you’re going to finish is if you start.

You start out feeling fine. Your feet feel light—you’re well-rested and fresh. It’s easy to concentrate on the scenery as it goes by. Sure, you have a long road ahead—a stack of syllabi about a mile high—but for now, life is good.

Then you hit a hill. Things start to ache. Your breathing gets ragged and your mouth dries out. You begin to wonder if you’ve bitten off more than you can swallow. Your feet feel heavy, and you feel fat.You wonder how long you’re going to last before you need to pull over, stop, catch your breath. There’s still so far to go.

You always reach the top of the hill the moment you think you can’t take it anymore. There’s a moment of exhilarating release once that major project is turned in, and you plunge downhill into a valley of semi-normalcy. You’ve recovered a bit. You can breathe more freely.

But there are other hills. Some big, some little. Some parts of the road you run with others—but for the most part, you go it alone. After a while, it gets hard to enjoy the scenery. You’re too focused on muscling your way through the pain in your legs and lungs and stomach, willing yourself not to stop until you’ve gone the distance.

You see the finish line. You’re a matter of yards from the end of a very long and painful haul. You have three options at this point: give up and stop running, succumbing to the nag of your aching limbs; trot across the finish line, dragging your feet he whole way, putting out minimal effort; or push like crazy.

Usually I can muster the fire to push like crazy, no matter how tired I am or how fast my time is.

Just keep pushing. We’ll get to the finish line soon. Then we can wind down, stretch…and go to bed.

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Chronicles of an Insomniac

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Most of my friends share a common difficulty. We’ve come to that place in the semester where our bodies are demanding more sleep than we have time to give them. I have friends telling me that for several mornings in a row, they apparently turned off their alarm clocks in their sleep and woke up an hour later, by that point having missed their first hour classes. Others report having turned off all three of their alarms in their sleep, some of which were hidden in different corners of the room so they’d have to get up and search for the source of the noise before turning it off. In short, sleep is creeping like kudzu over the lives of the UU student body, whether we like it or not.

The thing is, I don’t have this problem. While most of my classmates find themselves accidentally sleeping in 30 extra minutes, I keep waking up 30 minutes early. For a week now, I have not slept a night without waking up and hour or 30 minutes sooner than I need to. My sleep-deprived brain is purposefully depriving itself of more sleep.

I can’t even pretend to understand this phenomenon.

I exercise regularly and eat healthy. I’m not particularly stressed out, nor do I have any lingering or persistent anxieties. I take melatonin before bed. I drink special herbal sleep-aid tea on hour before I want to sleep. I’m really, really tired 80% of the time. You’d think that getting a solid night’s sleep wouldn’t be an issue. But apparently my brain just can’t handle all the help I’m giving it.

This has been the case for years. I want to sleep, but I never get as much as I think I need. It used to frustrate me that all of my attempts at getting decent sleep have been thwarted over the past couple of years. Now I’ve come to the point where I accept sleeplessness as part of my fate. Somehow, in the great scheme of things, the fact that I can’t get a solid night’s sleep is a crucial cog in the mechanism of destiny. Somehow, my sleeplessness will play an invaluable role in the history of the world. Yeah. That’s it.

At least I don’t end up accidentally missing class.

Braindead

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Why is it that the less sleep we get, the more awake we feel?

That question may only be coming from people in a certain age bracket. I’m hearing it a lot from my peers right now—across the board, the people who sleep the least seem the most awake, and those who sleep the most have a hard time keeping their eyes open.

My best friend is a busy lady. She gets up before dawn every day, goes to her classes, works untold numbers of hours, goes to bed again a few hours after midnight. She’s been doing this since our freshman year. It’s a miracle she’s still alive, much less smiling, perky, attentive in class, and always nice to people. I’m beginning to wonder if she’s a superhero in disguise.

People keep tossing the phrase “sleep debt” around like it explains everything. As far as I can tell, “sleep debt” is the concept of not being able to “pay” yourself all eight hours that your adult body needs every night. Usually you can only pay six, or five, or maybe only three. After a while, all of the sleep you’re not getting adds up to make a “sleep debt.” Trouble is, normal debts can be paid in full, and all at once. Try sleeping for the total number of hours we’ve missed, and we’d be out for days on end. That’s a tempting thought—I joke a lot about wanting to induce a coma for a week or two just so I could get some uninterrupted sleep—but having one night of sleeping a lot after weeks of sleeping very little does no good at all. If anything, it leaves us more tired that we were before.

Why? If “sleep debt” were actually a debt, we could just make up for it by sleeping more later, when we have time. But sleep, apparently, is not currency. You can’t just make it up like a missed homework assignment. After a long while of not getting enough sleep, suddenly getting enough of it doesn’t work as well as planned.

But, as college students everywhere will tell you, it should.

Dawn of a New Hobby

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Most girls my age have been cooking since they were four. A slightly smaller number of girls my age have been in charge of cooking at least one meal a week in their households since they were ten until they went to college, where meals became nonexistent. It’s a general (and usually true) assumption in our culture that if you’re female, you can cook.

This is not the case with everyone.

I’m not sure if it’s just because I have a subconscious fear of electronic food preparation devices or because I simply lack the skill, but I am not competent in the kitchen. At all. Yes, I’m a girl. But cooking is a mountain I’ve yet to climb. Sure, I dally around at the base, baking pies at the appropriate seasons, whipping up pretty decent guacamole, and making a teriyaki broccoli-mushroom stir fry that’s particularly yummy with baked chicken. Aside from that, I feel like a fish out of water when it comes to all things culinary.

However, college has turned me into a health nut. I’m a bit obsessive about knowing what’s in my food. Prepackaged stuff drives me crazy. I eat salads in the dining common mostly for the benefit of knowing exactly what my meal’s ingredients are. I question the makeup of most of their casseroles. I’m not even a huge fan of eating at restaurants on a regular basis. There’s no way of knowing what you’re putting in the tank. It could be perfectly wholesome stuff—and it might not.

That, and I like the idea of using substitute ingredients to sneak more vegetables into things. If I’m ever a mother, I will be a devious one. I’ve discovered that there are ways to make pizza crust out of cauliflower, brownies out of sweet potatoes, and chocolate pudding out of avocadoes. Being the kind of person who enjoys peanut butter on her hamburgers, I am more than willing to try these things. And chances are, the only way I’m going to try them is if I make them myself.

In short, my hippie flower-child tendencies may just lead to the beginning of a new obsession.

Like I need another one.  

Let’s Give This Self-Denial Thing a Try

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Call me crazy, ladies, but I’m trying to swear off chocolate for a while.

This isn’t for waistline reasons, per se. I do all I can to eat healthy, more for the sake of taking care of myself in the long run than for any other reason. I run and eat a lot of salad, not for the goal of losing weight but for the goal of not gaining any. I haven’t stepped on a scale in weeks—I figure that perhaps blissful ignorance is the best course of action in my case.

At any rate, I’m hoping to avoid chocolate for a week or so. First off, I feel healthier when I don’t eat sweets, and healthy is a happy feeling for me. Second—my forehead has exploded into a warzone of painful-looking blemishes. Saying “blemish” is glossing over the grotesque reality of the volcanoes rearing their ugly heads in the space between my eyebrows and my hairline. The cause? Frankly, too much candy. All that refined sugar and whatever-it-is that makes up the deliciousness of candy is manifesting itself as a mini mountain-range across my organ of benevolence.

Candy is terribly hard to avoid, though. Starting in October, the chances of being confronted with or given gallons of chocolate increase and increase from month to month until June, when we all wake up and realize that it’s summer and our swimsuits look awful on us.

Think about it. In October there’s Halloween, and everyone’s handing out junk chocolate wrapped in orange and black foil. In November, there’s an influx of sweets, if not straight chocolate, thanks to Thanksgiving and the inevitable pumpkin pies. In December, it’s Christmas time (incidentally–Christmas is 9 months away; have you finished your shopping?), and chocolate, wrapped in festive reds and greens, is sitting out in attractive dishes on coffee tables.

In January there is a brief reprieve, thanks to the New Year’s Resolutions and Resolutioners, but there’s still leftover candy from the previous three months to contend with.

But then comes February. We all know what happens in February.

This year, Easter falls in March. For whatever reason, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection is now associated with chocolate bunnies and baby chickens fashioned from marshmallows. I don’t get that. But it means more candy.

I like chocolate. I really do. But whatever it is that’s growing on my forehead is one more oily day away from becoming sentient and starting to talk.

Therefore, I am determined to avoid chocolate—not forever. Just for a little while. Every time I’m tempted, I’ll reach for an apple or something instead.

I have a feeling I’ll be eating a lot of apples.

Pardon, But My Stomach Has a Question

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Should one eat when one is not hungry?

This question is almost always answered “no.” Eating when you’re not hungry stretches your stomach, so it will take more food to fill you up the next time you eat. Also, eating when you’re not hungry is unnecessary. After all, we should only eat because we’re hungry. Food is fuel. If you are not in need of fuel, you needn’t consume fuel. The excess fuel turns into excess poundage that is very, very hard to get rid of.

But there are always extenuating circumstances. For example, you’re booked from 5 until 10 and will have no chance to eat a meal until very late at night—which isn’t exactly a good idea. You know that if you do not eat now, you’ll be hungry later. But you’re not hungry now. In fact, you’re still very full from lunch. But 4:00 or 4:30 will be your last chance to eat for the rest of the day.

Now you are in a food dilemma. Eat even though you’re full? Not eat and combat a growling stomach later?  What’s a girl to do?

I’ll have to meditate on this one while I finish up the remains of a box of Russell Stover. (Please, someone come help me.)

It is Friday, after all.

Cracked

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This happens every winter. Every winter for the past 20 years. You’d think I’d learn. You really would think I’d learn.

Winter winds are dry, cold, and harsh. No matter how much snow (or slushy rain) you get in the winter, the air will always be dry. The wind will keep blowing. Every bit of exposed skin will be chapped. You can take that to the bank.

And yet, every year, I forget that hand lotion exists.

It’s not that I don’t have hand lotion. I have more than enough. The most typical gift that women give to other women is hand lotion. Don’t ask for an explanation; I don’t know why we do this. We just do—especially when we don’t know the recipient very well. Birthday of hallmate? Hand lotion. Office Christmas gift exchange? Hand lotion. Bridal shower for your mother’s student? Hand lotion. Baby shower of your best friend’s uncles adopted daughter’s cousin? Hand lotion.

As a result of this interesting female tendency, I have a drawer full of interesting-smelling hand lotion. Organic lotion. “Doctors Recommend” lotion. Prescription lotion. Flowery lotion. Greasy lotion. Lotion that won’t absorb. Lotion that does nothing more than leave your hands smelling like Japanese cherry blossoms.

No, I am not lacking in the lotion department. But every winter, I always forget to wear it, or even to carry a bottle with me. Hence my dry, cracking hands that sting a bit every time I go to wash my hands. They’re starting to look like tree bark.

You really would think I’d learn.

Maybe I’ve cracked.

Eaty with Eady

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I had one job tonight. One.

Tomorrow I get my one and only chance to play “teacher” in college. I’m giving a presentation on a poet of my choice. Being the idiot over-achiever that I am, I decided to research a poet I’ve never heard anything about before in my life. So I picked Cornelius Eady.

Researching Cornelius was not exactly a waltz through a clover field. Our library has none, repeat NONE, of his seven volumes of poetry. Nor, it seems, does any library in the immediate area. So I was limited to encyclopedias and the internet. Our library didn’t even have any books about the poor man, because nobody writes books about poets who aren’t dead yet.

That’s right. This chap is still alive and kicking up in Washington D.C., teaching at a university and cranking out more award-winning poetry. To add another layer of interest, he once taught my poetry professor when she went to grad school. No pressure. No pressure at all.

And then my stomach decided to be hungry. I don’t know why it’s been so rebellious lately. I gave it everything it needed today: grains, veggies, lean protein, dairy, fruit—you name it, if it was healthy I ate it. I’ve been trying to cut back on snacking for the past two weeks because apparently the only thing people like to keep backstage on production night is sugary junk food, and the results of generating a sugar high are rarely good. Now my palate expects sugar, and I’m trying to train it to not want sugar.

But tonight I was craving sweets. I have a box of Russell Stover under my bed that I’ve been conscientiously resisting all week. I told myself I didn’t need it. I drank tea to fill me up. I munched on almonds. I did everything I could to resist. I was feeling horribly “eaty.”

Then the girl came down the hall with leftover birthday cake.  

Now I have guilt. And a lot of icing in my stomach.

I guess I had two jobs tonight. One: complete preparation for the presentation tomorrow at eight. That’s done. Two: avoid eating junk food.

Failed. Failed miserably.

At least I went running today.

Sleepless in Anytown

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I’ve always heard that there’s no rest for the wicked, and the righteous don’t need it.

Whether I’m wicked or righteous, I’ll leave for others to judge. Regardless, I need rest, no matter what the old adage says.

We all do. All of us Undisclosed University students are starting to get that glassy, half-dead stare that’s usually reserved for actors in zombie movies. Most of us exchanged water bottles for thermoses of coffee long ago, and more than half of us wish we could exchange the thermos for an I.V. drip of pure caffeine. The work keeps piling on, and the days seem to shrink like wool in the wash.

Sleep has become the thing we look forward to the moment we get up in the morning. And it’s only been four weeks of classes.

Sleep is a strange thing, come to think of it. We lapse out of wakefulness into an alternate state that’s completely natural, yet we slip into dreams that are anything but natural. We don’t stop breathing, and our heart s and minds never take a moments rest. We just keep existing, though not every part of us is engaged. Sleep provides escape, even though we’re not going anywhere—unless you sleepwalk. But that’s another story.

And because we dream, it’s as though we never really stop being awake. It’s as if our minds still want to travel when our bodies are too weary to keep going.

Sadly, those of us under extreme duress find ourselves dreaming about the things that stress us out the most—which means that even sleep can’t bring escape.

Bother.

Ah, well. Dreams and sleep are uncertain things—we’ll either have them or we won’t—but wakefulness will come. A new day, a new start, and the chance to live. Even a bleary-eyed day can be a full one, if we’re only grateful to be alive.

If that ramble made no sense—well, I’m sure you can guess the reason. Now, if you will excuse me, my pillow is calling my name.

Going ‘Round Again

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How is it possible to have had a weekend to recuperate and still be exhausted by the time we come back to Monday?

I know I’m full of unanswerable questions lately, but the feeling of having been hit by a truck is just a little too hard to shake. While I can’t honestly say that I feel stressed out, it’s safe to say that I haven’t felt this tired in a while.

Ah, well. Another week will come and go, and I’ll be thinking the same thing come next Sunday. Hopefully I’ll have the good sense to spare you all and refrain from repeating myself. Admittedly, my personal exhaustion tends to become a theme during the semesters. This is because I tend to write about whatever runs through my head at 11:00 at night, and usually by that point in the day I’m too tired to think of anything else.

That’s not a complaint, really. Things could be much, much worse. And they aren’t, so I’m content. Busyness and weariness are two things that help form us into the people we are becoming. The carousel of the week goes around and around, each seemingly identical circuit leaving us a little older and a little wiser, if we have the good judgment to keep an eye on our surroundings. The metaphor crumbles at this point: carousels rarely take you anywhere (unless, of course, you have magically jumped into a chalk pavement-picture), but weeks take you further and further down the winding and rocky road of our lives.

So off we go into another week of fears and hopes, prayers and prayers answered, literary allusions and film allusions, missteps and triumphs. One week at a time.

Tomorrow Is Another Day

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It is rarely a good idea to have a mindset of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” In fact, one might say that adopting this as a personal philosophy is hazardous to one’s health and spiritual wellbeing.

However, this philosophy seems to come with some exception clauses. One of them, of course, is eat, drink, and be merry because you actually plan to die the following day. Doing anything particularly foolish the day before dying is still not recommended, especially if you’d like people to remember you for the right reasons. There’s also the rather large chance that your plans of dying the following day will fall through, and you’ll be left with whatever baggage you gave yourself the day before.

There are a few more clauses lumped under the descriptive heading of “Holiday Clauses.” While holidays do not typically inspire us to think about death (with the exception of Halloween), there is a carefree attitude that comes with each holiday as part of the package deal. The easiest way to recognize the presence of this manifestation of the philosophy is by the presence of key phrases. For example, around Halloween, one might hear the phrase “It’s Halloween. I’ll just eat one little Reese’s cup.” At Thanksgiving, we are told to “go ahead and take seconds/thirds/fourths. It’s Thanksgiving! It doesn’t matter.” And of course, there is the time-honored “Christmas comes but once a year,” although some have called that a poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December.

In the minds of all students, the beginnings and ends of breaks in the semesters have always been a cause for rejoicing. This rejoicing may or may not result in a phase of binge eating, always followed by the resolution to jump back on the treadmill as soon as school starts up again. Interestingly, the same is often said after stress eating during the semester, resulting in an endless cycle of poor food choices.

Tomorrow, I and the other students at Undisclosed University will return to the rigors of academic life. I am willing to bet that several of us went to the nearest greasy fast food joint we could find and bought the largest, fattiest sandwich possible (with the necessary accompaniment of salty French fries) and stuffed our faces. Christmas break comes but once a year. We’ll be better tomorrow…if our arteries can forgive us.

Here There Be (No) Morning People

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It takes a special kind of person to enjoy mornings. It is a miracle of optimism when anyone can bounce out of bed without the aid of legal addictive stimulants (Coffee, people. Coffee.) or an annoying alarm clock located on the opposite side of the room. In fact, I can’t think of a single person of my acquaintance who can maintain this sort of early-morning positivity.

Alright, maybe my best friend. But she had all her blood replaced with liquid caffeine years ago, so she hardly counts. She also usually sleeps for no more than three hours a night. I’m referring to non-superheroes.

I am not a morning person. Even if one morning I woke up in an enchanted castle with a magical talking tea service offering me the morning paper and asking if I preferred one lump or two. Even if the castle’s friendly talking housecat brought me my slippers and politely informed me that the library fireplace had been lit for an hour and the independently wealthy and incredibly handsome single owner of the enchanted castle was waiting there to have breakfast with me (and would love to discuss Shakespeare and perhaps read me a sonnet or two), I would still roll out of bed with a bit of a grumble and ask how just strong the tea was.

My early-morning (pre-coffee) conversation is usually limited to Frankenstein’s-monster-esque grunts that are only vaguely similar to any real spoken language. For example, “Mffghrg” may be roughly translated as “Good morning! Would you kindly point me in the direction of the kitchen? I am in need of sustenance. Thank you. Have a lovely day.” Ask anyone in my family. They’ll tell you it’s true.

Of course, during vacation it is a little easier to be congenial first thing in the morning. The likelihood that you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep is much higher, and there’s usually nowhere to go or deadlines to meet. There may still be deadlines, but your “care quotient” is automatically much lower because, I repeat, you’re on vacation. Therefore it is easier to get out of bed feeling A) well-rested and B) a lot more carefree. You have the option of staring at the ceiling for a few minutes to half an hour before climbing out of bed. You can linger over your first cup of coffee—and your second. And your third. You have the time to read the daily comics or really think about that passage in wherever you happen to be reading in your Bible. Then, and only then, will the non-morning person feel equipped to face the day—and by that time, it is probably midafternoon anyway.

During the school year, however, it is much more likely that I (and others) will be getting up before the sun, fumbling around in the dark for that first cup of coffee, and will still be completely uncivil until lunch time. Every morning we’ll wake up and immediately tally the hours until we can be back in bed again. Such is the life of non-morning people.

Plans Gone Agley

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The saddest part of Christmas break is when it ends. I think every student has noble goals of things they want to accomplish before freedom ends and academic bondage begins, but for whatever reason, there’s never quite enough time to do all the things you’d hoped to do.

Add in the interesting curveball of contracting some unpleasant mystery illness, and you’re really sunk. It is nigh unto impossible to think (or type) clearly when you’re under a medication fog and everything hurts. For example, I had to stop about five times during that last sentence to fix glaring typographical errors. Thankfully, there is no homework due for quite some time, so naps on Sunday afternoons are still permissible.

Once again, my best laid plans have been put on hold due to an act of Providence. Thank heavens everything happens for a reason, otherwise I might grow increasingly frustrated with every sneeze, cough, and shiver. Apparently God knew that I finally needed to just stop everything and rest.