Noticing the inconspicuous awesome–dark humor

I realized that I haven’t done one of these in a very long time–and also that I’ve been posting about a lot of negative and/or dark things lately. So, here’s something to…kind of…counteract that!

Today while I was eating lunch, I was browsing a catalogue of various programs and workshops available around my city, and I noticed one called Cremation 101. Does that strike anyone else as humorous? What’s the final exam? Do you practice on dead animals, like when you dissect things in science class??

Now, in all seriousness, it is a course meant to give people information on what options are available while planning end-of-life details. I just thought the wording was kind of funny.

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Feeding the body: Pokemon Go

Whether for or against, people tend to have strong opinions about Pokémon Go. For those who have not somehow heard about it yet, Pokémon Go is a new game developed to be played on smartphones. It was made by Nintendo, and designed by Niantic, Inc, and has sparked a new Pokémon craze (although the franchise never fully lost its following between its 1995 beginning and now.)

Each player creates an in-game avatar, which captures Pokémon (fictional friendly and hostile monsters), which can be trained and battled at in-game gyms. One of the feature which makes the game so controversial is the method of play—through Google and the phone’s GPS, the map that the avatars explore matches up with the player’s current surroundings. The player physically walking is a vital part of gameplay, as gyms and Pokéstops (in-game checkpoints where players can gather supplies) correspond with real-life landmarks. There are certain functions that can’t be completed without movement—and the game will not register when the GPS tracks the player’s speed as being that of a car, plane, etc.

This game has had some great effects. Because the game needs you to physically move, more and more people are getting out into their communities, and getting more and more walking and biking time in. And duh, walking = better all-around physical and mental health. Health care professionals and mental illness patients are also reporting vast improvements with depression, anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia, and autism among others. Ever since meeting and getting involved with DF, autism especially has been a subject close to my heart. It’s wonderful how many parents are reporting direct connections between Pokémon Go and increases in their children’s social skills and mental flexibility. Here and here are a few of the articles I’ve seen

However, with every good thing comes people who will find ways to cheat, or take it to unhealthy extremes (wouldn’t that make a great t-shirt slogan??) People are finding ways to get around the walking requirement by using pets and moving toys. Since the game can be so addictive while potentially causing players to lose track of what is happening around them, people have been documented as being injured or killed by falling off cliffs and into rivers. Players have also been robbed, had car accidents, and suffered illness resulting from sun overexposure. There are too many cases to individually list–it seems like every day brings up a fresh crop in the media outlets from Buzzfeed to the TV news–but here is a good article, from The Atlantic, that I used while writing this post.

Now, all that being said, I do have pretty mixed feelings…

When my brother and I were pre-teens, there was a pretty major Pokémon craze among our peers. I was never a rabid Pokémon fan. My brother and I watched the TV show, and half-heartedly collected pogs when they were given out in Dorito bags. As an adult, I tend to look on Pokémon affectionately while remembering the good old days. So when I recently downloaded Pokémon Go, it was mainly just to get a sense of what exactly everyone is talking about for myself, not to fervently catch them all.

I’ve had it since Saturday, I think. Some players reported that the game was requesting FULL access to their Gmail accounts (including email and history). To be safe, I created a new Gmail account specifically for the purpose. The day or two after I got it I had some trouble signing in—it wasn’t wanting to recognize my GPS or load. Whatever the reason, it’s been working fine the last few days and I’ve been finding that it’s pretty fun!

I usually struggle with getting enough exercise. While it may just be because the game’s still new and novel to me, I’ve gotten out of the house and been on several walks in the last two days. I live close to a parky type area which has many stops and gyms. It’s been fun discovering what different features, and discovering what the developers/Googlemaps deemed significant enough to qualify as a Pokéstop.

Since I don’t want to end up like one of those people who walks into traffic or anything while on my phone, I took (and take) precautions. I make absolute sure to look up from my phone for a decent amount of time every few seconds. I look at things I am passing. I take note of cicadas, and the sound of running water. When I was walking through the park area, I would regularly sit down and visually enjoy the beauty of my surroundings, even turning the game off for a few minutes.

I also turned off the option to connect my phone’s camera to the game. This means that instead of seeing a cute little critter perched in that big oak tree down the road, they appear against a cartoony background. I suspect this makes it easier to dissociate myself from the virtual reality. Reminding myself that every second I’m playing, I’m also burning through data helps too.

Playing Pokémon Go gives me a kick to get off the couch and do something different. Getting outside changes my surroundings, and temporarily distracts me from my worries, anxieties and apathy. Although catching pretend monsters is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, it is a gentle and immediate thing to care about. It’s been cool to realize how many of the creature names I remember from childhood—I also remember the lyrics and tune to the original theme song! I’m also a bit less scornful of the people who get SO into the game they barely look up from their phones.

That actually sounds like a good closing point actually. Pokémon Go can be great, but don’t let it take over your life. Keep at least trying to find other things to get you up in the morning, to catch and keep your interest. Evolve, train, and battle your Pokémon, but don’t forget that it is also important to evolve and train your body, soul, and interests as a valuable, individual, and unique person! Trust me, I’m speaking from experience here!

You are worth it.

Much love.

Therapeutic mac and cheese, fiber, and recipes!

Cooking is soo therapeutic, and I can’t remind myself of the fact too often. Today, after another night of not enough sleep, I was still feeling groggy and bloated from my cousin’s wedding on Sunday. All I wanted to do was be lazy and re-watch Full House on Netflix. Days like this spell danger with a capital D for my eating habits, since the temptation to just grab a bowl of cereal or a plate of carbs is soo very…tempting. I might have given in if it weren’t for laziness—and actor, author, and Youtuber, and comedian Grace Helbig. I was I was binge watching her videos and found one where she made lemon angel hair pasta with shrimp. Pass on the shrimp…yaass on the pasta!

I ended up removing my butt from the recliner, and making a yummy, creamy version of macaroni and cheese. About 6 months to a year after surgery, one of the things I did to take back control of my life was research ways I could get vegetables into my diet, while reducing the amount in insoluble fiber I consumed. It is counterintuitive to what we are usually told by doctors, magazines, and the internet. But to a person whose gut still healing from major surgery—ok, I’ll back up a bit.

Basically, there are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, which you get from oatmeal, peeled fruit and veggies, and various other sources, thickens stool (poop). It grabs on to water, and therefore slows down everything that happens in the intestines. This is especially important to people who have had bowel resections. I had about a foot and a half of small intestine removed, including the ileum—which a part which usually plays a big role in digestion. Since there was less intestine in which digestion could happen, slowing the process down made it easier for my remaining intestine to absorb whatever nutrients they possibly could. That’s what soluble fiber does.

Insoluble fiber (found in fruit and veggie peels, whole grains, and such)…well, it very much has the opposite effect. The s***s I got for at least a year post-surgery while I healed and figured out my new diet were some power s***s. If I hadn’t temporarily removed as much as possible from my diet, I can’t imagine how much less energy I would have had.

All that to say, I had to get pretty creative with how I got my veggies. Cooking vegetables breaks down a lot of the molecular bonds that make them hard to digest, as does pureeing them. One of my top tricks was to buy up bell peppers from my local farmer’s market when they were in season I’d roast them, freeze them between layers of wax paper, and then use them whenever I needed them on pizza, thrown into pasta, on sandwiches…

I’m also pretty picky regarding the texture of cooked veggies, so I did a lot of food dupes, like you do when you don’t want picky toddlers to know what they’re eating (what can I say? I’m working on it!) One of my absolute favorites was the Super Mac & Cheese recipe from simplebites.net. Since the recipe was from a post geared towards babies and toddlers, it didn’t use a lot of spices, and sat very gently with my gut. Although I usually east pasta with peas, if I only felt up to making the mac, I still got a boost from the pumpkin in the sauce! Another healthier mac and cheese recipe I love is from pinchofyum.com.

Another great trick that my sneaky mom used from the time my brother and I were little was adding ground veggies to tomato sauce. Carrots and those priceless roasted bell peppers work especially well.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, today’s lazy recipe was Karen from kitchentreaty.com’s delicious take on macaroni and cheese. Now, although the original recipe was vegan, the way I made it definitely was not. I didn’t have the vegetable broth the recipe called for so I used chicken instead. Also…I added lactose-free cheese. BUT I did taste the sauce before I added it, and it was delicious that way too!

Now…I may not have got as much done today as I “should have” done to qualify for the mature, functional, adult awards but at least I made one good choice. Getting into the kitchen felt incredible. While washing, peeling, and chopping the veggies I felt the satisfying feeling of crunching through them with my favorite chopping knife. I looked through the window, and saw a grumpy-looking bird sitting on the lawn. I felt the steam from the boiling water. Most of all, I was proud of myself for each nourishing ingredient that went into cooking that dish.

When I cook, I am showing myself that I matter instead of just telling myself. When I buy ingredients for a new recipe, I nurture curiosity and interest. When I tweak ingredients mid-recipe, I am showing myself that it is ok to take risks, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant.

I nurture. I thrive. I grow.

Much love.

 

Feeding the mind, and book reviews

A while ago I bought The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. The Artist’s Way is a self-help book that is worthy of an entire post to its self, but put simply it is a book and corresponding series of exercises that take more of a spiritual approach to reclaiming and nurturing creativity. I never finished it (although it’s on my list), but I’d like to paraphrase one principle in particular which has always stuck with me: in order to maintain artistic motivation and momentum, it is important to keep one’s bank of inspiration full, so to speak. Cameron suggests doing this by taking one’s self on weekly “artist dates”, to do something that one is truly interested in. As she explains artist dates on her website:

[They] fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.

This means that even if an artist date doesn’t involve an overtly artistic activity, it still stimulates extremely important qualities: lightheartedness, curiosity, pleasure, and, indirectly, a sense of self worth. I struggle with ALL of these things quite often, especially when I am going through a low. I feel guilty about allowing myself to do pleasurable things if they are not directly and explicitly tied to work or improving my physical health or my home situation.

One way I’ve been taking artist dates recently is by getting back into reading fiction. I was on a non-fiction kick for a while, but as great as the genre can be, it’s been leaving me unsatisfied lately. I’ve been craving more creativity, more stories. It’s been great so far. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and allowing myself to devour books if I feel like it or read things that can’t exactly be defined as fine literature has felt freeing.  It’s one way I can take back some of the power that I feel mental illness has taken from me—the ability to follow my interests without discounting them.

When I struggle with allowing myself to feel strong emotion, I return to light-hearted, familiar books and series. A particular favorite is the Hannah Swensen series by Joanne Fluke. These books comprise a murder mystery series that is fun without being gory or gritty. They follow Hannah, owner of a small-town Minnesota cookie store who always manages to stumble across murder victims. Each book always contains some of the recipes mentioned within the story. These books are formulaic but addictive. Perfect for when I want something to distract me from my life, but not heighten my anxiety or depression.

Over this past long weekend, I spent some time at a friend’s cottage with another friend of ours from college. We spent the cozy evenings coloring and reading. I whizzed through the first book in the Butternut Lake series, Up at Butternut Lake, and another book in the SouledOut Sisters series, Come to the Table (I told you I was a voracious reader!) Both of these titles also fall under the lighthearted fiction umbrella.

Up at Butternut Lake was written by Mary McNear. It is about a woman (Allie) who, along with her 5-year-old son, moves to her childhood cottage following her husband’s death. The plot follows Allie re-establishing herself in the Butternut community and (duh) falling in love with her workaholic neighbor; the middle-aged waitress at the only diner in town; and Allie’s friend Jax, who has a big secret. Also pretty predictable, but I really don’t consider that to be a bad thing. In this case, it was exactly what I needed. Perfect summer reading, with relatable and interesting characters.

Come to the Table was written by Neta Jackson. It is part of the SouledOut Sisters series, which is a spinoff from the Yada Yada Prayer group series, which I also love. Both series are Christian fiction. Come to the Table also follows multiple POVs. It is about a group of friends and roommates as they interact with their church community and work with needy Chicago populations. One of the things I liked about it is that the young adult protagonists do not have their shit together—they struggle to find their lives’ callings, just like I am. Although I do not really connect with the style of worship depicted in the book, I am Christian (Mennonite, for anyone who cares), and enjoyed finding a series that is not fairy-taleish, mystical, or preachy. I liked how it showed God working in the characters’ lives in a real-world, down-to-Earth kind of way.

Lastly, I just finished Queen Sugar. Written by Natalie Baszile, it follows the story of Charley, a black Californian woman who inherits a Louisianan sugar farm. Readers are thrown into the struggles and new pleasures she and her daughter Micah experience as they move to Louisiana, and reconnect with Charley’s family. I am still processing this one. It’s definitely not a light-hearted read, and I see myself re-reading it when I am in the same state of mind as when I re-read The Help, actually.

A couple of closing notes: Click on any of the book titles to check out its Goodreads review. Also, check out the Buzzfeed listicle entitled “31 Books You Need to Bring to the Beach this Summer.” It’s where I first learned about Queen Sugar, as has a TON of other great-looking titles, spanning a bunch of genres!

Lastly, I know that of course not everyone shares my tastes and religious beliefs, and that’s just fine. I just ask that if you feel compelled to leave a comment on any of the books I mentioned, please keep it respectful and constructive. Thanks!

 

 

Cameron, J. (n.d.). Artist Dates | Julia Cameron Live. Retrieved July 12, 2016, from http://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/artists-dates/

Thompson, L. (2016, June 29). 31 Books You Need To Bring To The Beach This Summer. Retrieved July 12, 2016, from https://www.buzzfeed.com/lincolnthompson/books-you-need-to-bring-to-the-beach-this-summer?utm_term=.xgeNV2ZyX

 

https://www.buzzfeed.com/lincolnthompson/books-you-need-to-bring-to-the-beach-this-summer?utm_term=.xgeNV2ZyX&sub=4286341_8993172#.eu3x1nDmB

Back again, with good life choices!

This morning I woke up around 7:15 with strong gas. I went to the bathroom, then came back and snuggled back into my bed with a book. Not too much later, the gas was back again, so I made another bathroom trip. I decided my body was telling me it was time to be up, so I decided to go upstairs and start my day. Good life choice #1. I still live in my parents’ house, in the basement room my brother occupied when he was still at home. (Side note: although I moved back home before my abdominal troubles started, things worked out excellently. My parents tend to spend most of their time upstairs, so unless someone’s doing laundry the downstairs tends to be pretty quiet. I have a bathroom only steps away from my bedroom door, so if I feel like it, I can pretend I still live in an apartment and seek out my parents’ company as it suits me.)

I am feeling pretty good today. While I was not tap dancing and singing show tunes when I came upstairs, I was in a good enough mood to take the 1:00 total it takes to scramble myself an egg in the microwave instead of reaching for my usual cereal and plain yogurt. I ate my egg on a slice of white bread with a piece of Muenster cheese hacked off the loaf my dad brought back from the States. It was delicious. I also peeled myself two peaches. GLC #2.

As if the wonders  would never cease, after letting stuff digest a bit I did a gentle Pilates workout I found on Youtube, and supplemented it with some more advanced Pilates moves I knew already. After that, I went for a brisk walk down a few blocks and back. GLC #3! It was the best kind of workout I can do for myself. Before my troubles (I say that a lot…shorten itmaybe to B.C? Before Crohn’s?) I did do Pilates, but also loved doing heavy workouts–Jillian Michaels 30-Day Shred, her kettlebell one, and other 20-minute cardio and dumbbell  workouts I had on DVD and found online.

My incision has long since healed, and my doctors have given me clearance to do whatever exercise I feel up for. For the most part, that has not included long workouts like that. To clarify, for the most part I have simply not wanted to. I work a challenging retail job, with a LOT of standing, walking, and crouching. On the days when I work, I usually count that as my exercise. Often, I am so mentally and/or physically tired and uncomfortable that it feels like work takes the kind of effort I used to put into my old workouts, without the endorphin rush. I am not fully happy with this choice, but to quote one of my co-workers, “It is what it is.” Most often, since varying levels of depression have become my norm, on days I DON’T work I tell myself that I need to rest, and save my energy for work. Whether or not this is true or just a trick mental illness plays on me, I’m also unhappy with this choice–but it is one I am making steps to change.

I think that part of the reason exercise seems so daunting is that I am on some level stuck in the same mindset in which I approached exercise B.C. That mindset might work for and inspire some people, but it is not healthy for me any more. The all-or-nothing, go-go-go, type of inspiration now feels like bullying my body instead of listening to what it desperately needs to tell me. My goal is to do SOME kind of physical activity on the non-work days, even if it is only a 10-minute walk. Yes, ideally the human body should get more than that, but for me it is an achievable, non-scary baseline when brushing my teeth and hair twice a day feels like a prize-worthy achievement.

Gentle, yet effective forms of exercise I have found are:

1. Solo walking. Indoors to a video or outdoors. Sometimes I will break it into chunks, doing 10 minutes or however long in the morning, and again in the evening or whenever

2. Pilates. Pilates can be extremely demanding, but it is a type of exercise that is based on quality of movement rather than quantity. So, doing only a few repetitions of a movement with proper breath can be extremely effective AND feel really good! When I am exercising pretty regularly, I like Pilates For Dummies. When I am feeling less in shape, there are tons of gentle Youtube workouts that are designed for pregnancy, or bodies that have other challenges. Do not feel ashamed of searching these out!

3. Walking with friends. I put this in a separate category than solo walking, since it takes more effort to co-ordinate schedules. DB (Dear Boyfriend) is a fantastic partner for me since he is encouraging of however long or hard I want to walk. I’ve also walked and hiked with my parents, DB’s mom, his brothers and sister-in-law, and my own brother and sister-in-law. I am blessed with a fantastic support network, but you can also often find walking buddies through fitness stores, gyms, and the Y.

4. Squats, belly dancing moves, leg lifts, and the like while brushing my teeth and hair, fixing food, washing dishes…if anything else feels like more than I can handle, this is a fantastic outlet! It probably looks pretty funny, but screw anyone watching, it’s good for you! You can get a decent amount of total movement a day just by doing this. When my depression is strong, my days can get pretty sedentary. Movement keeps me fit, and helps prevent blood clots by keeping my blood flowing.

To sum up: I feel good today. It is almost 11:00 AM, and I have already made several healthy choices! Blogging was #4 for anyone keeping track 🙂 Any one can feel big on its own, but when I help myself wake up well, one small good choice tends to prepare the ground for another.

“Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow”

–Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden