The great September transition

IMG_2374I always loved going back to school as a kid. When July turned into August, the school supplies were moved to their own hectic corner at Target stores and the September issue of Teen magazine filled with fall fashion arrived in my mailbox. I started counting down the days until I could walk down my school’s halls. I thought about what I aspired to do each year. I’d be super organized and a straight-A student. I’d become more popular or athletic. I’d be the kind of person who is kind to everyone and wears the coolest clothes from Kohl’s.

That September glow has never disappeared from my life. My heart swooned a couple of Septembers ago when Nick told me he’s a September person. He didn’t have to explain. I knew exactly what he meant because I’m a September person, too.

That’s not to say I don’t love summer. I love the long hours of sunshine and the effortless feeling of leaving the house in flip-flops for a coffee run or to walk along the canal. I love the array of colors as flowers bloom randomly on lawns or neatly in window boxes. I love fires on the beach with my friends and lingering after sunset. I love ordering a whole bottle of chilled rosé and sipping with my girls on a patio. I love how my parents’ living space doubles as the deck, patio, and pool area become an extension of the house.

Summer is what we train for. We show off our winter’s work at the gym. Without guilt, we push aside books and turn off TVs. That can wait until October when it’s dark, but right now it’s summer and we must enjoy it.

But in the fall, we return to that structure and the activities that make us stronger, fitter, more educated for next summer. I crave the sense of accomplishment I get each time I finish a workout or a book.

September is transition month when we get to make choices. We can choose how to reinvent ourselves for the school year. We can choose what we want to focus on during the cold months. We even get to  choose whether to get a jump on fall with chunky-knit everything and pumpkin-spice everything. We can also choose to enjoy every second of the diminishing daylight of summer before fully surrendering to closed-toe shoes, crunchy leaves, and cozy blankets by the fireplace.

I’ll do both. I’ll take my paddleboard out to the lake and wear my summer dresses a couple more times, but I’ve also got a pot of chili on the stove and football on the TV.

 

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It’s just 8 weeks

I’ve been procrastinating all week on my research assignment for class. This class is so out of my comfort zone.

Research Methods.

Just the name makes me shudder. It’s not about going to the library or how to interview people. It’s about Quantitative data. I even half-jokingly asked the research manager at my office if one of his interns could tutor me. He’s yet to assign anyone.

Last week, I submitted my first assignment – a short paper about my intended research project for the class and my professor ripped it apart. Your topic is too broad. Don’t use first person in your writing ever again.

So now it’s time for the next assignment and I don’t want to. This is the class in the program that I was dreading the most. It’s the one I’m just certain will break my 4.0. Just get through it, I keep telling myself. It’s 8 weeks. Seven to go.

And it’s a topic I know I’m weak in and want to learn more about. As I mentioned, I work with researchers every day on my job.

Saturday, 7:30 a.m. Cat under chair. Nick still sleeping. Coffee in hand. Cozy sweatshirt on. I can do this!

There’s a real person here

I’m guessing the guy who sent me the disgusting message at work on Monday didn’t take a minute to think about how his words, emoticon, and “lol” would make me feel.

He probably didn’t expect me to cry in the women’s bathroom. He probably doesn’t know that I left early and my best friend at work walked me out, gave me several hugs, and was concerned that I was too upset to drive. He probably didn’t expect that I wouldn’t be able to get my schoolwork done Monday night because I was so upset and couldn’t focus. He probably didn’t expect that as a result of not getting it done Monday, I had to get up early Tuesday morning to finish it.

He probably didn’t expect that I would feel so anxious standing in front of my closet to get dressed for work and didn’t know what would be hideous enough that he would leave me alone, so I left my pajamas on and worked from home. He probably didn’t expect that I would end up with my laptop in bed and crying throughout the day because I felt so gross and violated.

When I went back to the office on Wednesday, he probably didn’t know that I would make a beeline for an empty cubicle downstairs. I opted to work without a mouse and monitors, just so I wouldn’t have to see him. He probably doesn’t know that I pinged my friend upstairs asking her to bring me my water bottle, so I wouldn’t have to go to my desk.

He probably doesn’t know that after I saw him sign off for the day, I ran up to my desk to reunite with my teammates and finally put lip balm on lips that had been dry all day.

Thursday morning, in a moment of empowerment, I went directly to my desk and settled in. I didn’t raise it up to stand as I usually do in the mornings because that would reveal too much of my backside to him. Instead, I made myself as tiny as possible and shielded myself with the back of the chair. I smelled the red rose on my desk. It was the sweetest smell. It reminded me to be courageous. Then I opened an email about an interview loop I was participating on that day and saw his name on the email, too.

He probably doesn’t know that I panicked. I couldn’t be in a room with him. I couldn’t make nice conversation with him and a young woman who wants to work here. My eyes filled with hot tears. Luckily, it turned out all right because we weren’t in the same sessions with the interviewee, so I just had to make eye contact with him as I was leaving the interview and he was coming in.

He probably doesn’t know that later in the afternoon, I wanted tea. I saw that he wasn’t at his desk, so I hurried to mine to get my mug and green tea bag. I considered going upstairs to the weird kitchen for hot water, but again, didn’t want to change my life because of this incident, so I went to the regular kitchen downstairs.

He probably doesn’t know that my heart raced ask I neared the kitchen. What if he’s in there? Is that why he wasn’t at his desk? He doesn’t know that I carefully peeked around the corner and breathed a sigh of relief when the café was empty. While pouring my water, I heard someone come in and tensed up. I carefully turned my head and again was relieved it wasn’t him. I hurried back upstairs to my makeshift desk.

He probably doesn’t know that today I’m exhausted. All the crying and panicking has taken a toll. Again, I stood in front of the closet wondering what I could wear on this hot day that wouldn’t encourage him to stare. I also have the feeling that it’s going to be a hard day because most of my friends at work who know what’s going on aren’t there today to run interference.

I just wanted you to know that there’s a real person on the receiving end of your words and actions. Next time take a minute to consider that.

I’m not whispering. I’m screaming

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On Monday a colleague who sits behind me felt it was appropriate to send me an instant message telling me he was bummed that I wouldn’t be sitting in his line of vision anymore.

He basically told me he looks at me from behind while I work. Disgusting. For context, this is NOT a friend of mine. He’s a guy I’ve barely said more than good morning to.

I left the office with tears running down my face. I tried to shield my red eyes with sunglasses, but anyone who encountered me saw me crying. I cried much of the evening and the following day. I felt violated and ashamed. Had I done something to provoke this? Were my heels too high or my jeans too flattering? I have been crushing it at the gym  lately.

The same guy pinged me a couple weeks prior to tell me he noticed that I’m always working really hard. I said thank you and that I appreciated that he noticed. Did that somehow open the door to him—a married man with a baby on the way—feeling it appropriate to let me know he likes looking at me?

Tuesday, I felt so nauseated that I couldn’t bring myself to go to the office. Instead, I played a video my sister-in-law posted of my niece, 4, giggling as she innocently drove her toy car around the yard. All I could think about in that moment was my sweet girl growing up and having a slime bag stare at her ass while she tries to do her job.

Oh, hell no! Not on my watch!

So I fired off an email to the slime bag letting him know that what he said was disgusting and it affected my day. I told him not to bother me again. All I want to do is my job–making healthcare work better. A mission I’m very passionate about.

I also took it to the whisper network at my company. Even without mentioning his name, I got responses of “I know exactly who you’re talking about because he’s done it to me, too.”

Well, that got me really fired up. I’m not going to whisper for another second. I’m going to scream and yell.

There is no reason anyone should feel uncomfortable going to their job or sitting at their desk. There is no reason I should be searching my closet for unflattering articles of clothing to wear. There is no reason a slime bag should feel comfortable telling a coworker he (or she) likes to stare at them from behind. THIS IS NOT OK!

So today I held my head high, and I went to work. Obviously I didn’t sit at my desk in his eye line. But anyone who asked why I wasn’t sitting at my desk was told exactly why I wasn’t sitting at my desk. I even spun my laptop around and let them read the exchange (posted above, in its entirety) for themselves.

And I got a ton of support from my colleagues. Men and women promised to report any inappropriate behavior they see. They offered to have a conversation with him on my behalf. One even put a red rose on my desk. “The color of courage,” she explained.

Tonight I’m so grateful to all the supporters. To every man who asked how to navigate in the #metoo era and all the brave victims who are using their voice– who are turning their whispers into shouts. You all inspire me. And if I go home crying again tomorrow, it’ll be for a completely different reason.

Seriously though, cut the sugar

I’m addicted to sugar and odds are you are, too. One reason is that nutrition labels make it really difficult to determine  how much we’re getting. As a nutrition student 3 classes in, it would be irresponsible for me to advise you on your specific needs, so I’ll just tell you what I’ve been reading in general terms.

  • You should probably be consuming less added sugar than you do now. Way less!
  • There is no recommended amount of added sugar on food labels because there is no recommended amount. You don’t need any! You get the sugar you need from natural sources like milk, blueberries, and tomatoes.
  • On that note, don’t worry about the sugar you get from natural sources.
  • When you consume sugar, the reward center of your brain lights up. We like sugar. Once we get it, we want more of it. It works just the same as alcohol, gambling, or heroin addiction. Getting more dulls our sensitivity to it, so it takes more and more and more to get the same reaction.

A couple years ago, my doctor had me eliminate added sugar from my diet for 6 weeks. I distinctly remember the first day of my no-sugar diet. I had a headache and was grouchy. I laid on the couch watching the Katy Perry documentary and felt sorry for myself. I promise you, it gets better after Day 1.

After just a few days without added sugar, I started noticing the natural sweetness in the foods I was consuming. Bananas were suddenly like candy. My favorite treat was a smoothie of coconut milk, banana, and a handful of cashews. Try it!

Our bodies crave sweetness, but when we dull our senses with excessive sugar, we don’t notice that banana’s sweetness. Instead we crave Lucky Charms, Frappuccinos, and sweet cocktails. Cutting sugar isn’t about weight loss or vanity. Sugar consumption is a serious health epidemic. On an individual basis, it leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and so many more bad things no one wants to go through. So what can you do?

Step one is to cut out sugar sweetened beverages, such as lemonade, soda, fruit juice, iced tea, energy drinks, all of it! Your body even processes calorie-free diet drinks the same way. You can’t fool it with a Diet Coke.

After that, look at other places to cut down on added sugar. Did you know that 30% of many cereals are sugar? When I buy cereal, I get the plain corn flakes (literally, the only ingredient is corn) from a natural market and shake on some cinnamon. You could switch to oatmeal— again, I recommend buying plain oats rather than the flavored packets. I keep a big bag of blueberries in the freezer and put a handful on my oatmeal. Those little guys defrost fast. Then I grab a spoonful of non-sweetened almond butter to stir in. Breakfast is on the table within 5 minutes.

Next, swap out sugary snacks for fruit and nuts. This has been a total game-changer for me. My sugar-dense snacks used to leave me feeling nauseous and hungry again soon. A handful of nuts keeps me satiated through my afternoon.

Finally, pay attention to what you’re eating for meals. We all expect a sugar hit when we eat a creamy tiramisu, but not when we eat Pad Thai or spaghetti and meatballs, right? Well, those sauces contain a boatload of sugar. So does commercial salad dressing, fruity-on-the-bottom yogurt cups, and more. Look for sugar where you don’t expect it. When you find it, consider workaround. Maybe instead of that bottle of Kraft dressing, you could drizzle some olive oil and balsamic on your salad. Or next time make your own Pad Thai sauce sans sugar (or with just a bit.)

It’s still a work in progress for me. Here are a few principles that help me.

  1. I try to only have dessert items a few times a week, and make it count. That means I don’t eat mass-produced doughnuts with a long shelf life that come in a box. If it’s a doughnut I crave, I go to a good bakery and get the best one I can find. A good rule is if it doesn’t rot that’s because bacteria doesn’t want to eat it — and you shouldn’t either.
  2. I aim to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. With that baseline, I know I have less room for empty calories.
  3. I try not to keep sweets in the house — or just pick one thing at a time. That way if I want a cupcake, I have to put on my shoes, walk out of the house, lock the door behind me, and go down the street to the store to get it. That makes me question if it’s worth it. (And sometimes it totally is!)

My main downfall right now is that my desk is right next to the table where people leave snacks to share at work. It’s hard to look past that plate of scones or package of cookies. Sometimes I indulge and I often regret it when I feel sluggish 30 minutes later.

Believe me, I know cutting down on sugar is hard (I remember every time I hear a Katy Perry song), but little changes do add up. I beg you to start now because it won’t get easier next year. And tell me how it’s going and if you have any advice for me.

For more science-backed advice, I recommend talking to your doctor about your specific needs and reading Daily Intake of Sugar — How Much Sugar Should You Eat Per Day?

REFERENCES

  1. DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH, Wilson WL. Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review Br J Sports Med 2018;52:910-913.
  2. Bremer, Andrew A.,M.D., PhD., Lustig RH, M.D. Effects of sugar-sweetened beverages on children. Pediatr Ann. 2012;41(1):26-30. https://une.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.une.idm.oclc.org/docview/914325607?accountid=12756. doi: http://dx.doi.org.une.idm.oclc.org/10.3928/00904481-20111209-09.

Throw that scorecard away

IMG_1813“Everyone you meet always asks if you have a career, are married, or own a house as if life was some kind of grocery list. But no one ever asks you if you are happy” – Heath Ledger

I came across this quote today and gave a “yeah buddy” to the late Heath Ledger.

He’s absolutely right. The movies, society, our grandparents all want us to do things in some “right” order as we were told to do.

Plenty of people who have checked those boxes uncheck them and then check them again. Some check a few and leave others unchecked. Some are desperate to check them, but it’s not happening for them.

Regardless, life isn’t a score card. You don’t get to yell bingo and collect your prize basket. You don’t win happiness for checking anything off the list. Plenty of people check their boxes and wake up the next day absolutely miserable, wishing they could get out from under this giant mortgage and away from these whiney children.

Many of us don’t even slow down long enough to ask ourselves if we even want to check those boxes.

On this Pride Day, I think it’s important to give a high-five to everyone out there being themselves or taking baby steps toward living their best life.

At the very least, slow down for a minute and ask yourself what you want to be doing.

Me? Thanks for asking. I am happy. I thought long and hard about my checklist. I want to:

  • Go to my storage unit to get my turquoise chair, so I can set it up at home.
  • Finish reading a book.
  • Use the new Aveda lotion I got this morning.
  • Have a glass of white wine.
  • Make fajitas for dinner with Nick.

What’ve you got?

A lump you can’t ignore

If you don’t want to read about my boobs, I suggest checking out This Old House instead. They have some good stuff there. https://www.thisoldhouse.com/

 

The rest of you might remember from my post 5 years ago when my doctor felt a “tumor” in my breast during a routine check up and sent me to a radiology clinic for imaging. For a week or so until my appointment I was freaking out because as I said, my doctor told me she felt a “tumor.”

Turns out “tumor” is a catchall term meaning mass of some sort that isn’t usually there. Obviously I got a new doctor after that experience. One who doesn’t casually drop the word tumor.

This time I felt the lump first. My primary care doctor — who I love  — was calm and told me it’s probably a cyst. But get it checked out anyway. I did get it checked out and it is a cyst.

Great story, right?

Stick with me. There’s a reason I’m telling it to you. The doctor at the breast clinic told me

  1. I’m not doing anything to cause these things
  2. It’s really important not to get complacent after a couple “it’s just a cyst” diagnoses because next time it might not be just a cyst, so if I feel a lump, I have to get it checked out.

I’m passing along that information to all of you. There are plenty of non-scary reasons why a lump might form. None of them is a good reason to ignore it. Even the mammogram experience isn’t so bad. I heard horror stories of boobs getting smooshed in devices that look like they should be used for pressing paninis. So here are 3 reasons to get your mammo:

  1. The new 3-D machines are not exactly fun, but they’re not at all painful either.
  2. Your health plan probably pays for a preventive mammogram in full, if it’s done for preventive reasons. If you’re getting it because you found a lump already, it’s diagnostic and subject to copay and deductible, but still covered.
  3. It could save your life!

A show about women

I hate, hate, hate shows that feature 3 men and one woman. Why is that the accepted ratio? So I’m always happy to find a show led by ladies! I came home from work today, changed into my yoga pants and snuggled up on the couch with my cat to finish season 1 of The Bold Type, a show about three millennial women who started together at a Cosmopolitan-inspired magazine as assistants.

I just found out about the show yesterday, when I was clicking around Hulu. I love magazines and Chick Lit, so it seemed like a fun show to get lost in while I recovered from a Saturday of cooking and morning of back day at the gym.

Was I ever surprised that the show isn’t some dumb show with clueless, stereotypical characters moping after their loser boyfriends and comedically messing up their lives at every turn. The show actually has strong, female-empowering writing. Here are a few things I loved about it.

  1. The editor-in-chief character Jacqueline who raises her young staffers up. She challenges them to be the best version of themselves possible and supports them when they mess up. Shouldn’t we all be so lucky to have a boss like this?
  2. The three main characters are not jealous, back-stabby mean girls. They are legitimately happy for one another as one by one they get promoted or have steamy hot shower sex.
  3. The show takes on powerful topics such as BRCA testing (for the breast cancer-causing gene mutation), Muslim immigration, and the #metoo movement.
  4. Obviously, the show celebrates strong, female characters, which the world needs more of.

I have some critiques, too. First, Sutton and Jane’s apartment is not the apartment of young Manhattan magazine staffers. No, I know what that salary is and it doesn’t afford you an apartment like that.

Second, Sutton is having that aforementioned steamy hot sex with the company attorney. For the love of Pete, this doesn’t happen in real life. Why must it happen on every TV show?

OK season 2 starts tomorrow, so get binging.

The strongest woman I know

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Everything I want to be when I’m 80

Before my grandma’s funeral, I struggled to write a eulogy. I had a Word doc open on my computer. It had words and thoughts jumbled together, but it just wasn’t working. There was no flow. No story.

My grandma was the strongest woman I know. When I was setting up a 401k, the advisor asked me how long I expect to live. To gague, he about my family history.

“My grandma is going to live forever and it’s going to make her so mad,” I told him, “I want to be like her, so let’s plan for the longest option.”

Until the day I got the call that Grandma had died, I really believed it was possible she’d live past the century mark. She was the strongest woman I know. She was a woman of unwavering faith. She did all the work she needed to do here on Earth and while I’ll miss her terribly, I’m so happy she’s getting her rest.

Grandma left her small town and moved to Minneapolis after her high school graduation, which I always found incredibly brave. She wanted to go to college to study English, but she didn’t know she had to apply and make financial arrangements with the university, so she got a job at Woolworth’s instead. She made it work. She always made it work.

That job at Woolworth’s reunited her with Grandpa. Together, they had 16 kids. And raised them all to be good human beings. They had 30+ grandchildren and showed up for all of us, too.

She’d bring a handful of kids out to her house on the lake for a long weekend or a week at a time. There, she had a shed full of outdoor toys like inner tubes and water guns. Inside were puzzles, books, and cookies.

Grandma loved playing Crapette, a French card game. There were always a couple of decks on her dining table. Also, a couple bowls of pennies. Grandma and Grandpa each had a bowl and they’d put a penny in the other’s bowl when they lost.

When I was younger, Grandma would give me hints or remind me to “look around” when we played Crapette, but two years ago, she told me, “you’re too old for me to let you win now.”

After that, she got competitive. The last time I played her, she creamed me, then had me count the cards left in my hand, saying she was curious. I suspect she wanted to know exactly how big her victory was.

I also learned that Grandma had a whole life outside of being my Grandma. It was often difficult to call her. When she’d call me back hours or days later, she’d say, “I missed your call. I was out running around.”

Of course she was!

Last summer, she had a heart attack. I was worried about her until my parents sent me a picture of her hours later out picking up sticks in her backyard.

Of course she was!

She asked my cousin and me to make sure there was tuna casserole at her funeral. She was sick of her friends dying and eating the same meals over and over. She wanted something different. When Jessica showed up with potato chips and cans of tuna, explaining that Grandma requested this, the church ladies responded, “of course your Grandma did.”

Grandma has been one of my tour guides through life. I don’t know what it’s going to be like not to be able to call her for reassurance or when I need my ego checked in a Crappette crushing.

I’m glad she’s back with Grandpa and I’m grateful for the time I had with her. I also know that we’ll all be OK because she gave us one another.

Here’s the obit. I’ll count “During the winter, she could be found zooming down the hill on her red sled” among the most effective sentences I’ve ever written.

Follow your yay!

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There’s some serious YAY happening here. Bubbles!

I started college as a psychology major. Like everyone else calling themselves a psychology major, I wanted to help people. But the summer after my freshman year, I started to feel anxious about psychology. I wasn’t sure I liked it as much as I thought I would. I struggled through my third psychology class and lacked motivation to try harder.

I entered sophomore year with a goal to try some journalism classes along with my psychology classes. Immediately, I liked journalism. It was challenging, but I was motivated to the do the work. I loved creating something every week. You could say I felt the yay.

“The yay” is what I call the feeling that makes me want to tell everyone I know about the exciting thing I’m doing. It’s the thing that makes me want to get it just right – even if it means spending long hours on it because those long hours don’t feel like work.

In recent years, I’ve learned that I need to follow the yay. If something leaves me feeling energized, I need to find a way to get more of that into my life. For example, my New York apartment had easy access to Central Park, and Hudson River Park. I found myself struggling with each step through the park. But running by water made the steps feel lighter, so I stopped turning right when I stepped off my stoop and went left to the river instead.

Earlier this year, my work team embarked on a long-term project. The first two months were all logistics. I’m a content strategist, and I love the content part. I love crafting a piece. I love putting fingers to keys and watching the words come together. I don’t even hate revising it after a stakeholder or colleague takes a crap all over my original. In my experience, two brains almost always make a piece stronger. (Four or more brains ALWAYS makes it worse. Much worse.) I love measuring the success of my work and revising it if I can make it perform better.

I don’t love the strategy part of my job. This is things like deciding the best order to put the pages in, putting together the flow for a user to reset their password or seemingly endless debates about why it should say “sign in” vs. “log in.” (There’s no right or wrong answer. Just make a decision and let’s move on!)

I like my usual mix of content writing and strategizing. But with a big project like this, we had months of all detailed logistics, planning and ugh! I was miserable at my job those months. I wasn’t doing any of the writing that makes me excited to go to work. The hours at work were dragging on.

Then we reached the part of the project when I got to start writing. Not completely, but when it shifted that direction, and I immediately felt the yay again. I remembered why I like my job. I started seeing my co-workers as people who are a joy to be around, which means I was a more pleasant colleague. I stopped coming home and searching for a different job. Even though the writing is a lot of work, it doesn’t feel like a struggle the way the planning did. I could knock out pages of content in an afternoon.

This is important information for me when making life decisions. Follow the yay. It’ll lead me where I need to be.