Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Gifter

Is it just me, or are you totally seduced by those TJ Maxx gifter ads?

I long to be the woman who finds a thoughtful gift for every single person I know. Seriously, who doesn't want to show up at a party and tuck a little present into someone's pocket, or send one over on a tray of champange (sidebar: have you ever been to a party at someone's house that involved trays of champange? Me neither)? Imagine being smart, savvy, AND stylish, all at the same time! Most days I'm happy to come home without food spilled on me. Or something worse on work days.

I can't help but wonder how that scenario would play out in real life. Like probably the lady who's smiling across the room about the present that just arrived is thinking, "Shoot, now I have to buy her something." The fact is, when we buy things for people we sometimes just make them feel obligated to buy something for us.

Also, if you have a whole room in your house devoted to wrapping, and you have a special gift wrapping sweater, is it even remotely possible that you're staying in a reasonable budget for gifts?

I love giving and receiving presents. I don't even a little bit advocate the idea of avoiding gift giving altogether. I'm just calling for some reason here: decide where your limits are and stick to them. I recently read an article on Get Rich Slowly called "Lowering Expectations for Christmas." The writer said that she stopped buying gifts for adult siblings and their spouses because, "we were basically just trading gift cards around. It was totally unnecessary, and I was relieved when it finally came to an end."

When you're watching those commercials, don't forget that the folks at TJ Maxx are trying to get you to come into their store and buy more stuff. While you're in there shopping for others, maybe you'll find a little gift for yourself as well. After all, you can't be a the Gifter without the perfect beige pumps and a red satin dress for that hypothetical party with the champange.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and don't try to be like that skinny woman on TV with the great wardrobe. That's just a good life philosophy in general.

PS: As for what happened in Connecticut, I don't have any words. The Onion said it best:,30743/ (contains a lot of adult language, which is the only kind that really applies in this situation).

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Christmas Shopping Rule

Image credit: mischiru, from Flickr
Let's be honest: the real reason we overspend on holiday shopping is that we buy ourselves too many gifts while we're shopping for others.

The problem is that everything is on sale, and beautifully displayed. There are twice as many friendly and helpful salespeople as the rest of the year. It all gets kind of heady and wonderful, and suddenly you're carrying around a huge bag full of new shoes and earrings and candles, and none of them is a suitable gift for your dad.

When I was just starting out as a real post-college grown up, and in a situation where a crayon drawing was no longer a gift option for my family members, I got caught up in this whirlwind. For someone in her early 20's with a modest income, this meant that the credit card totals added up quickly. January was always a little overwhelming.

After a couple of years of this, I made a rule- no purchases for myself between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I admit that I don't follow this rule strictly, especially now that I have a little more disposable income. I might buy some new running shoes this month, and I sometimes get caught up in buying Christmas decorations and clothes for holiday parties. But having the "no gifts for Melissa" rule in the back of my mind seems to help me keep these purchases to a reasonable (and affordable) volume. If I get tempted, I try to remember that the same stuff is even more on sale in January, and by then I usually have some gift certificates and money that came in Christmas cards.

I read a great article today on Get Rich Slowly about the psychology of shopping, and it confirmed that I was on the right track. There are all kinds of subtle marketing tricks that retailers use to get you to buy more. But the biggest issue is that at this time of year most of us just spend more time at the mall. We're shopping for others, but we can't help seeing things we want for ourselves.  I have said it before and I'll say it again: if you aren't shopping much, you won't even know about all the new stuff you can't live without.

I always like to remind you that I'm not a minimalist. I have a full closet, tons of stemware I hardly ever use,  and counter tops covered with small appliances. I don't object to buying stuff in general. What I object to is spending my hard earned dollars on things I don't really want or need. So I suggest trying a little restraint this year, even if it doesn't come naturally to you. I promise, it becomes a habit pretty quickly. And it's so wonderful when you don't have to be afraid of your credit card statements in January.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and put down those snakeskin stilettos and back away slowly...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Generosity Fail

Chris Pirillo- Flickr

Occasionally you hear someone ask this about generosity: is it really selfless, or do the good feelings in creates in the generous person mean that the motivation is ultimately selfish?

I object to this question for two reasons: first, it doesn't matter why someone is being generous, only that they are. Second, this question usually comes from someone who rarely lifts a finger to help anyone else. So my standard answer is "Who cares?" As long as things are getting accomplished, it doesn't matter what the motivation is. 

But today my generosity of spirit was tested, and I'm sorry to say that I failed.

On Thursday afternoons, if I'm not at work, I volunteer at a clinic that serves the homeless and the medically under served poor. The clinic has been operating for more than 20 years. It has an established clientele and a pretty consistent group of providers. We all get to know each other well, and there aren't many secrets in our cozy clinic space.

Today I got in an tiff with one of our long-time patients. Somehow her file got lost in the shuffle, and she ended up waiting longer than necessary to have vital signs taken. I found out about this when I went to the waiting room to find another patient. I retrieved her file right away and brought her to my work station for vitals. She was very agitated, complaining non-stop about how poorly the clinic runs and how much better organized it would be if she were in charge.  There was also a lot about how everyone treats her like she's stupid. It wouldn't end. After a few minutes I asked her to take a breath and calm down- I swear I did it politely! She became very offended and even more agitated, telling me that I was being condescending and that I had no right to talk to her like that. At that point I told her that she did not need vital signs taken (she had already seen the doctor) and that she could leave.

Of course there was a big scene with a lot of loud complaining in the waiting room. I think everyone working in the clinic that day heard the lady's story, which became more horrific with each retelling. I'm sure by now it involves the threat of bodily violence and some sort of supernatural being.

I really reflected on our conversation, and if I could repeat it I don't think I would do anything differently. I have mostly learned (from lots of misadventures) that it is not productive to argue with crazy people. But basic courtesy needs to exist. And the fact is it's useless to take a blood pressure when the person is in a full on rant- it would be sky high. That is, if you can even hear it over the complaining.

Once I decided that I didn't do anything wrong, I had lots of room in my brain for righteous indignation. How dare she speak to me like that? To act like she's doing me a favor to by letting me check her vital signs. To complain about the inefficiency of a free clinic run entirely by volunteers! Doesn't she know that not a single one of us has to be there? That we're all trying to help?

And that's when I realized that I failed the generosity of spirit test. The bottom line is that I was expecting gratitude for what I'm doing at that clinic. Shame on me.

Before I go back next Thursday, I have to get my head right- I'm there to help the patients that come in, but they're not there to do anything for me. I can expect everyone to exercise basic manners, but I can't expect to get anything in return for my service. A sense of pride in a job well done is probably okay, but self righteousness is not.

I still believe that the most important part of volunteering is that we get out and do it. As long as something is getting accomplished, the motivation for being there is unimportant. But if I find myself feeling superior, or expecting something in return for my service, it's time to re-examine the reason I'm there.

Your prayers would be much appreciated this week. I don't think selflessness comes naturally to me, and I'm going to need all the help I can get!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Seeking out Discomfort

Image credit: Chad Podoski, Flickr

I spent the past few weeks at work waaaaay out of my comfort zone. It kind of sucked.

As part of my orientation for the ICU step down unit, I'm working on a six week rotation in Surgical Intensive Care.

The ICU is...intense. In two weeks, my preceptor and I sent two patients emergently back to surgery, saw two patients re-intubated (a definite move in the wrong direction), and took care of someone having a massive stroke.

I also learned how to use an arterial line without getting blood everywhere, saw the importance of assessments every four hours (because you catch the stroke as it's happening), and spent lots of time running to the supply closet and then standing there looking desperately for scissors or gauze or a chest tube setup or whatever supply my co-workers were waiting for me to find. I felt like a nursing student all over again. I just wanted someone to ask me to put on a sugar tong splint or work in triage or do something that was familiar to me.

I hate to admit it, but I know I'm a much better nurse after this experience.

Neale Donald Waslch said "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." (I found that quote on Answering Oliver but I can't find the specific post).  I don't completely agree with this statement: I couldn't handle feeling this overwhelmed and stressed out all the time. I got home exhausted every evening and laid awake worrying at night. There are some benefits to having a comfortable routine.

What I do believe is that in order to grow, sometimes we have to seek out discomfort.

Occasionally the uncomfortable situations come on their own, and all you can do is muddle through. But other times you might find yourself stagnating a little, and then you have to go looking for the discomfort. Surviving the  uncomfortable in our lives makes us stronger and better.

However, when you're seeking growth through change and discomfort (or when it's imposed on you from outside) in one area of your life, I think it's important to cut yourself a little slack in other areas. I haven't beat myself up if I missed a workout or grabbed some takeout instead of cooking. A few lazy days were very necessary.  Everything can't be a priority, and "learning experiences" can be exhausting. I don't want to prove that I'm a superhero, I just want to be the best Melissa I can be.

What kinds of challenges in your life have lead to growth and improvement?

Speaking of improvement, remember those Every Day for a Month projects? There's one coming for October. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Myth of Happily Ever After

Image credit: Sonia Luna, Flickr
I don't want to be a downer or anything, but I think we were all sold a big load of crap by the Brothers Grimm.

Disney perpetuates it. Every single story is about a young adult going through some major challenge, finding a soul mate, and then living Happily Ever After.

When I was younger, I thought I would get to the point in life that the struggle would be over and I would just coast along, happily ever after. I blame the children's stories. The main character is never a middle aged lady regrouping after a huge tragedy or some guy making a career change or anything. The protagonist is always young. The implication is that you go through the hard stuff in late adolescence and then you're done.

I went through my twenties thinking that if I could just get it together it would all get easier. I kept waiting for "happily ever after" to happen, but it never did.

Now that I'm older I finally realize that struggle is what life is all about. It sounds like bad news until you consider the alternative. Imagine if you really got it all figured out at 20, and then spent the next 50 or 60 years coasting along. Boring, right? Where's the growth and improvement in that proposition? What it life at 20 was as good as it gets?

What I have learned is that happiness is not an end point. Happiness is more like fitness- you have to keep working on it, and no matter how good it gets there is always room for it to get better. Just like building muscle, you can get yourself in a position for more happiness later by doing some hard work now. You might get an injury in your life, and your happiness declines for a while. But just like muscle memory, your brain must have some sort of "happiness memory," because once you've been there it's easier to get back again. And like fitness, you can never completely stop working on it or you'll lose what you have.

I was reluctant to write about this topic because I was afraid it would be kind of a bummer. But the more I consider it, the more positive I think it is. Imagine if your life choices were all made in early adulthood. It might be okay if you were super thrilled with everything, but most of us had some room for improvement back then (and probably now too).  Thank goodness for the possibility that things can always improve.  Every day we can work on happiness a little. When things have been bad for a while, we realize that struggle always leads to growth. Growth strengthens our happiness muscles and makes them more resilient.  But we can never say, "okay, I'm done, now I can live happily ever after."

Just some thoughts for a cloudy Wednesday.

What do you do to strengthen your happiness muscle? What trials have made you a happier person?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Meeting Cool People While Traveling

A ridiculously beautiful Argentinian at a weaving co-op in the Sacred Valley
I can talk for days about the advantages and disadvantages of traveling solo, but the best part is that you have to meet new people. When you get on tours and excursions, it's natural to make conversation with the people around you, and this is even more true when you're on your own.  So here's a list of the most interesting people I met on my recent trip to Peru:

Sue: an Australian in her late 50's, Sue has been living in various countries in the Middle East working as a school principal. She has been in Kuwait for the past year but hopes to move on when her two year contract is complete. After her visit to the Sacred Valley and Macchu Piccu, she was planning to move on to higher altitude to volunteer in a more remote area of the country. Unfortunately she was having a hard time with the altitude in Cuzco and was considering canceling this leg of her trip. She had volunteered in many parts of the world, including Cambodia, where she was warned not to touch any of the children because their parents might try to send them home with her.

Tunupa- a delicious lunch stop in the Sacred Valley. Maximiliano is the tall guy
Maximiliano: a priest from Argentina. I speak a little Spanish, he speaks even less English, but he was the most friendly and engaging person I met on the entire trip. He and his traveling companion (I didn't really meet him) were in Peru for a conference in Lima and then spent the weekend in the Sacred Valley and Machu Piccu. We talked about some of the similarities between the Inca belief system and the Catholicism brought to Peru by the Spanish- it's pretty remarkable to see where these two belief systems overlap.

Callie: an undergraduate from Mount Holyoke, who is spending the summer volunteering with Partners in Heath in Lima. She is a licensed EMT and has been training community health educators in basic first aid. She became fluent in Spanish while living in Costa Rica for a year after high school. We met on the flight from Lima to Cuzco, and she was planning to spend the weekend at Machu Piccu with a friend. She plans to attend medical school after she graduates.

Scott: a former District Manager for Abercrombie & Fitch, who left the company after becoming frustrated with hiring practices: apparently you have to be good looking to get promoted there, and he got sick of the awkward conversations with managers. He had been living in Lima for six months in a house owned by his sister-in-law's parents. He gave me some instruction on Peruvian cooking while we hiked down from Machu Piccu to the train station in Aguas Calientes.

I met lots of other interesting folks, and spoke briefly with many people from Spanish speaking countries. I have reached the point in my Spanish speaking ability that I can have a conversation, but it can be a struggle because I often get stuck on a word I don't know. I was proud to be able to speak with hotel staff, order meals, and understand the Spanish portion of the bilingual tours. I want to keep practicing and improving so that one day I can converse easily in Spanish.

I didn't bring a laptop on the trip, so I couldn't upload photos and delete them from my camera. I found out on day 4 of my 12 day trip that my camera only holds 257 photos at the quality setting I was using. Instead of reducing the quality settings on the camera, I took less photos, edited heavily, and used my iPhone as a secondary camera. The iPhone photos turned out pretty well and I loved using the Instagram finishes to change the look of the picture. Here are some examples of pictures taken with my iPhone:

The train to Machu Piccu

An Inca Kola in Lima
Attempting to eat Cuy (Guinea Pig) in Cuzco
El Barrio Chino (Chinatown), Lima
View from the terrace of my hotel room, Paracas

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid) and stay tuned for lots more about Peru!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Every Day for a Month

I'm pleased to announce that I FINALLY finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I started it in 2010 and finished it about 2 hours before a book club discussion at Amber and Billy's house on Monday, proving once again that I can't finish anything without a deadline.

The author writes that while sitting on a bus one day she began to ponder the question of whether she was truly happy. This lead to a project in which she spent time every day focusing on strategies to be happier and more mindful of her happiness. Each month had a specific focus- love, family, work, "the eternal," etc., with specific tasks and goals.

When I started the book I was completely overwhelmed. Rubin is a master organizer and spent a huge amount of time and book space discussing research, plans, and the extensive system of charts she designed to track her progress. (If you want to learn more or design your own project, Rubin created a website to help you out.)

So in the beginning I thought I would never attempt a project of that scope. The fact is that I have a pretty short attention span and I get overwhelmed by extensive projects. I made it through nursing school okay, but in my personal life I like things to be smaller scale; hence my enjoyment of writing blog posts but failure to attempt a novel.

However, one of the most emphasized points in the book was Rubin's first Personal Commandment: Be Gretchen. My favorite part of the book was Rubin's focus on what really makes her happy, rather than what makes others happy or what should make her happy.

Leo's Happiness Project includes being well rested (in Oscar's bed if possible)

Another point that really spoke to me was the idea that it's the process, not the final product, that creates happienss. Did you ever achieve a big goal and then feel let down that you were done? This is why Rubin's First Splendid Truth is: To be happier you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right in an atmosphere of growth.

I thought a lot about what Be Melissa really means right now, and what processes could be involved in Being Melissa better. I came up with this: What I really need is a FOCUS project. I'm an energetic person and I love the endless self-improvement ideas out there, but sometimes I stretch myself too thin, and often I abandon one thing in the middle to start something new.  I have vowed to stop this before,  but old habits die hard.

So here's how I'm going to Be Melissa in an atmosphere of growth: I am picking one goal for each month and working on it every day.

I started Tuesday (July 10), and I leave for Peru in less than two weeks. I resisted the temptation to wait until August, because I would probably have moved on to something new by then. The focus for July is daily Spanish lessons.  A few weeks ago I bought a subscription to some online Spanish lessons, hoping to brush up my high school Spanish before Peru. The plan was to complete one lesson (about 20 minutes) every day that I don't work. Up to this week I had completed two lessons, both done on the first day I bought the subscription.

When I worked for an insurance company, we were encouraged (along with all business school students I think), to make our goals SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.  Rubin reminds us of a business school adage: "You manage what you measure." I also know that I need some structure or I don't get things done. So I made my own low budget chart- I found a lined notebook, I wrote the numbers 10-24 down the side to represent each day before my trip, and I am writing down which lesson I complete each day.

A ridiculous fact about me is that a blank space on this chart will make me feel terrible, even though I alone will know about it. I'm pretty sure this is a guilt factor brought about by my Catholic upbringing.  Nonetheless, this notebook paper chart is a way to hold myself accountable.

I'm starting out with something simple and concrete to get used to the process, and then I'm taking 12 days off to "focus" on enjoying my trip. I would like to get a little loftier moving forward. Some ideas for future months include: do some yoga every day, write something every day, get up by 7:00 every day, make a list of annoying/overdue tasks and do one every day.

I'm excited about the prospect of picking one priority and focusing on it. I also love that each goal is time limited- I get a little more than the 21 days needed to make a habit, but I can also decide to abandon it after a month if it doesn't work for me.

Anyone else out there working on some form of Happiness Project?  I would love to hear about it!

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and wish me luck finding focus.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Things are Fun When Fun People Do Them

Image credit: Malix from Flickr

My say yes resolution continues! If you're just tuning in, my New Years' Resolution for 2012 is to say yes to as many invitations as possible. It is by far the best resolution I have ever made, and probably the only one I have kept all the way into July. My social calendar is full, the phone rings more often, and I'm having more fun than ever.

The lesson I can share is that it doesn't matter what I'm doing, I always have fun when I'm doing it with fun people.  There have been times when I'm tempted to say no to an event because it doesn't seem like my cup of tea (who am I kidding, my glass of wine is a more appropriate phrase). Now that I'm saying yes more I find that every cup of tea is tasty when drunk in the right company. And I'm lucky to know lots of the right company.

Here's a photographic record of some of the fun things done with fun people so far this year:
A New Year's Eve Heavy Petty (Tom Petty cover band) concert

A beer tasting at the Florida Museum of Natural History
A beach weekend featuring a Hare Krishna festival

A 10K Mud Run

My first ever attempt at water skiing on Lake Santa Fe

I get that this is a weird follow up to my last, try it by yourself blog post.  I think my overall message is, don't not do things if you can't find anyone to go with, and do try things you might be hesitant to try if people you like are involved.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and try saying yes to something you weren't sure you wanted to do.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Who's Going With You?

Image credit: BrittneyBush, Flickr

The other day I was talking to someone who told me he rarely goes to movies anymore because most of his friends are married and he doesn't have anyone to go with. I thought it was weird because I've been going to movies by myself for years- you're not supposed to talk during the movie anyway, and it's a great way to spend a Wednesday afternoon when I'm off and everyone I know is at work,

But I admit I 've been guilty in the past of not going places when I didn't have someone to go with.  A few years ago I made a decision to stop waiting around for someone else and just go.  In town I generally run into someone I know, and when I travel I always enjoy myself.

I spent some time in New York City a couple of years ago. My friend from high school and his fiance live there, so I had a place to stay and people to hang out with in the evening, but during the day I was on my own. I was worried beforehand that I wouldn't have a good time, but actually it was the start of my solo travel epiphany: when you're on your own, you can get up when you want, eat when and where you want, and do and see only what you want.

Like you can arrive at the Empire State building at 9am and not wait in line!

The NYC trip helped me work up the courage to go to Ireland by myself. I booked a small group tour to make the planning easier. When I met my trip mates, I found out that there were five other solo travelers in the group.  It seems like I really got to know the other travelers better because I wasn't focused on a companion. I had two days alone in Dublin, but after spending five days with a group I was happy to have some alone time. And, as with NYC, there was a great feeling of freedom in doing just what I wanted to do.

Some of my fellow Irish Adventurers

Next month I'm taking a trip to Peru. When I was in the third grade, I learned about Machu Piccu, and I have been wanting to visit ever since. I couldn't find anyone with the time or funds to go with, so it will be another solo adventure.  I picked another group trip, but this one might not be the same cohesive group the whole time. I'm also practing my rusty high school Spanish with the hope that I will be able to converse with some actual Peruvians (we'll see how I do).  One day I might get brave enough to travel completely on my own.

I still really enjoy spending time with friends. I love having the opportunity to relax with people I feel comfortable with, to discuss things after they happen, and to create those goofy stories that later have you laughing over drinks until beer comes out your nose. But I'm also really thankful for the courage to go out and do things when I can't find anyone to go with me.

It's hard to wear silly hats when you're alone!

Before my Ireland trip I was really nervous about spending so much time alone. I found a great guide for solo travel, a book called Travel Alone and Love it, by Sharon B. Wingler. The author is a flight attendant who had been all over the world by herself. She covers tons of practical topics (planning, packing, safety) but also discusses the advantages of traveling on your own. My favorite lesson from the book is that sometimes you get a little lonely while traveling on your own, but lonliness isn't the end of the world. Most of the time you're busy enjoying your trip, so it's not a big issue. Really, it's a small price to pay for having the opportunity to do things you always wanted to do.

But I admit that I still dislike eating dinner in a restaurant by myself.  What things have you been relucatant to do alone?

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and try doing something you really want to do, even if you can't find anyone to go with you.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Watch Your Mouth

Watching your mouth can be as difficult to do figuratively as it is to do literally.

Guess what? I finally got hired for that job I originally applied for a year ago.

Honestly I think that the timing is better now anyway. Last year I was feeling pretty negative about my job and I was anxious to leave. At some point I got it in my head that I have it pretty good and that I'm lucky to work where I do. The right time to leave a job is when you still like it- it helps you feel like you have options, and it prevents you from burning your bridges.

But what I want to talk about today is the importance of watching what you say and who you say it to.

I have written about networking before- establish relationships at work by playing nicely with others and helping out when you can. Not only does this make your mom and your kindergarten teacher proud, but it can also help you get ahead in ways that you don't expect.

Last year the nurses in the ER were frequently floated to other floors. No one likes to be floated- you don't know what kind of situation you'll end up in and you have to work in a place that's unfamiliar. I found it as uncomfortable as anyone else, but I made it a point to show up with a good attitude and work hard. The fact is that a hospital isn't a very big place, and it's easy to get a bad reputation.

One of my float assignments was in the ICU step down unit. I got to work with another nurse who was really happy for the help. We had a great day together. Guess who put in a good word for me when I applied for a job on that unit?

My application included three references. I picked my manager and two other people that I expected to say nice things about me if asked. Later I found out that the hiring manager did not call any of the references, but did call another co-worker of mine, whom he knew from a previous job. I'm sure that if she'd said I was a lazy nurse or had a terrible attitude, I would not have been selected for the position. Luckily she said nice things about me and I got the job.

I'm an outspoken person, and I have been known to broadcast my opinion of other people and things. The problem is that you never know when that stuff will come back to bite you.

Consider this: what if I had shown up for the float assignment feeling resentful and grouchy that I had to be there? Do you think the nurse who worked there would have helped me get hired? And if the hiring manager called someone that I didn't get along with to ask her opinion of me, do you thing she would've had anything nice to say?

Anyway, I wish I could tell you that I will always say nice things to others, will never complain, and will only release positive thoughts into the universe. But that's crap- I still lose my temper and snap at my co-workers on occasion. However, the lesson that was reinforced for me this week is that having a lot of allies around you is a good way to get things accomplished. And that you never know who will be in a position to make you or break you. So be careful what you say!

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and for Pete's sake (and yours) watch your mouth! And if you're really brave, take some photos of yourself making baboon faces and post them on the internet.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Green Smoothies

I'm taking a break from ranting about social faux pas to announce that as of this week, I have officially lost my nursing spread! After two years, I am rid of the eight pounds I gained in my first year as a nurse.

How did I do it? Another post is forthcoming, but the secret for me was: more exercise, less alcohol, more fruits and vegetables, less junk. Sorry if you were hoping for something groundbreaking.

One of my recent diet discoveries is green smoothies- blended drinks with fruit AND vegetables.  Now I have one of those bad boys for breakfast 2-3 times per week. I can't think of a better way to get some green stuff in the morning.

It started when a friend pinned this recipe from Iowa Girl Eats on Pinterest. I tried it out and couldn't believe the delicious results. It really tastes like a dessert instead of a healthy breakfast- even without the flavored yogurt (I use silken tofu).

I became obsessed: I started looking all over the internet for more recipes. I told my co-workers about it and got three other people drinking their spinach. I even found out from my Facebook friends that you can blend kale in there as well as spinach.

So here's my formula for an awesome green smoothie:
1 frozen banana cut into chunks (cut before freezing)
1-2 cups any other fruit: strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, mango, pineapple, kiwi, watermelon
1/4 cup silken tofu or yogurt
1/2 cup milk or soy or nut milk
1 Tbsp peanut butter or other nut butter or raw sliced almonds
1-2 cups spinach or kale
(optional) a few sprigs of parsley or mint (doesn't mix well with peanut butter)

Put everything but the spinach or kale in the blender and give it a whirl. Add the greens and mix for several minutes until there are no big leafy bits left. Add a little more milk if the consistency is too thick. Pour into a glass and enjoy. Feel a sense of smug superiority at getting such a healthy start to the day.

I'm still making fresh juice almost every day, but this is a great way to get the fiber as well as nutrients from the greens.  I make the prep a little easier by rinsing the spinach or kale the night before and leaving it in the salad spinner in the fridge overnight (a trick I learned from Mark Bittman). I really love having a use for bananas that are getting a little brown- just cut them up and freeze them. 

A note on blenders: the Vitamix is supposed to be the ultimate smoothie machine, but it's pretty pricey. I have a Ninja that I bought at Target for $39.99, which also came with a small food processor. The blades are knife-sharp, so it does a great job slicing up all of the produce. The food processor is good for grinding up nuts and flax seeds. I might invest in a Vitamix one day (I doubt those Ninja blades will hold an edge forever), but the Ninja was a great starter and a very small investment.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and drink your veggies!

Monday, May 28, 2012

I Will Never Say Yes if You Ask Me Out by Text Message

Image credit: Samantha Decker- Flickr
Last week someone asked me out via text message at 2:45 in the morning. Actually I have been asked out by text message several times in the past year. I posted a rant (or three) about it on Facebook. Lots of girls agreed with me, but some of my guy friends seemed to be confused as to what the problem is. So Imma let you in on the secret. Consider it a PSA about why I WILL NEVER SAY YES IF YOU ASK ME OUT BY TEXT MESSAGE.

I don't want you to show up in a limo. You don't have to put on a tux or bring roses. Please don't stand under my window with a boom box, that's totally been done. But DO  act like you care enough about going out with me to put some sort of thought into it.

We are independent women of the 21st century. We have careers. We save for retirement. We fix the toilet if need be and kill the spiders ourselves. But we still have a soft spot for romance. We grew up with Disney Princesses and The Princess Bride and maybe a princess playhouse. When our parents made us do chores we pretended to be Cinderella waiting for her prince charming to come. And you can bet he didn't send a text asking if Cinderella wanted to do something sometime.

Guys, I know this seems complicated. So here's what you need to know: If she gave you her number, that means she's interested*. Man up and call her. When you do ask her out, have a plan- know what you want to do and when. This makes it seem like you put some thought into the whole thing. (If you want some extra points, think of two possible activities and let her pick.) Show up on time.  Send a text message only to confirm plans or let her know if you're running more than 5 minutes late.

That's it. It's that easy. We just want you to act like going out with us is somewhat important to you. No pumpkin coach required.

So long for now, keep it simple stupid, and for Pete's sake, pick up the stupid phone.

*If she didn't give you her number, don't try to obtain it from someone else. This is only acceptable if you're under the age of 15. Maybe not even then.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Maybe Reply

Remember when George H Bush decided that since he was the most powerful dude in the free world and he hated broccoli, he was going to ban it from being served in the White House*? Well when I get elected Queen of the World, I am going to take a similarly motivated but much less frivolous action: I'm removing the "maybe" reply from all online invitations.

Let me back up for a second...Occasionally the "maybe" reply is legitimate. You might have another engagement and aren't sure when you'll be done.  You could be trying to find a babysitter/dogsitter/boyfriend-or-husbandsitter and don't know if it will work out. Perhaps you're having dental work done that day and don't know if you'll still be drooling by party time.  In circumstances like these, a "maybe" reply is acceptable if you 1.) explain the reason for the maybe and 2.) update the reply as soon as your plans are firm.

Thanks to Meetup, I've been getting Facebook invitations to lots of events. The usual mix of replies are something like, 10 attending, 6 not attending, 23 maybe attending. Now I'm sure a few of those 23 people meet the criteria above. But I get the feeling that most of those "maybe" replies are really saying "I might show if nothing better comes up between now and then."

Dick move guys.

Some person that you know and like enough to be Facebook friends with has chosen to include you in an event. He or she has made arrangements, called the restaurant to give a headcount/ cleaned the house, and probably purchased a new article of clothing. The least you can do is let that person know for sure if you're going to be there.

Just ask yourself, "How would the Dalai Lama reply?"**

I think that this is an issue of the internet making things more impersonal. Remember in elementary school when your classmate would give you a hand-written invitation* to a birthday party? A few days later he or she would ask you, face to face, if you were coming. You didn't say, "I don't know, I might come if I don't get invited to something else."  You stuck the invitation on the fridge and reminded your mom that you needed to get a present. But now online invitations allow us to click the "maybe" button and never say a word to the host face to face.

Anyway, I'm not trying to make you feel guilty or anything (maybe a little). I'm just saying that the considerate thing to do is make a decision about whether or not you want to attend the event, and commit to it for goodness sake.

Also if you RSVP'd maybe to Richard's and my birthday party and didn't show, you missed this amazing scuba cake that Richard's mom made. With mermaids. So your loss on that.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and send a real RSVP. His Holiness would approve**.

*If you are too young to remember the first George Bush banning broccoli or hand-written invitations, do me a favor and keep quiet about it. Seriously, I had a tough time with this birthday.

**This blog is in no way endorsed by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. But I still think he would agree with me.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

An Ounce of Prevention

A heart attack doesn't look like this:
Image courtesy Heart Attack Grill

Image courtesy Heart Attack Grill

A heart attack looks more like this:

Image courtesy laika-one, from Flickr

And later you might look like this:

Image courtesy drburtoni, from Flickr

I saw a lot of people having heart problems at work last week, and it really got to me. One was a co-worker that I'm very fond of. Another was a 60 year old man who has been working hard to improve his diet and exercise regularly, but who continues to develop new coronary vessel abnormalities. And another was a very sweet man with a very sweet wife, who we stabilized for now but who probably won't be around for another year.

In the hospital we can fix the problem once it arises: there is medication for mild disease, stents for occluded vessels, and bypass surgery for extensive problems. Unfortunately, these interventions treat the existing problems but do little to prevent heart disease from advancing.

I have been watching some documentaries in the past few weeks about the connection between diet and health: "Food Matters," "The Last Heart Attack," and "Forks Over Knives." As Yoni Freedhoff, a Canadian physician and weight loss specialist, points out, The Heart Attack Grill is Not the Problem. The problem is the demand for cheap, easy, calorie dense, nutrient poor meals. It comes from the idea that a token amount of physical activity entitles us to a "treat," as David Staples discusses in his article Why I Hate the Snack Ritual in Youth Soccer Leagues. It gets perpetuated when government subsidies make fatty animal products and corn and soy based snack foods cheaper than fresh produce.

Watching those documentaries and seeing the devastating effects of heart disease in person have really reaffirmed my desire to get involved in primary prevention. I don't exactly know what that looks like, but it's forcing me to reconsider the type of nurse I want to be. It's also making me examine my diet and think about the changes I can make to live a longer, stronger, healthier life.

But for now, I hope everyone who reads this will consider making one or two small changes to improve heart health: get some exercise, add an extra vegetable or two to your plate, trade some of your refined grains for whole, and for Pete's sake don't smoke. If you need some convincing I would be happy to come by and start a large bore IV or two in your arm.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and be sweet to your arteries. It's worth it now and in the long run.

Image courtesy B G from Flickr

Monday, April 30, 2012

Doing More with Less

The exam room in our makeshift clinic in Haiti

I'm a hospital nurse. If you come to my ER with a cough, I can check your white blood cell counts, x-ray your chest and culture your throat The doctor can send you home with an antibiotic, an expectorant, and an inhaler to help you breathe better.

It's great to have so many resources at our disposal, and when there's a true emergency we really need them. But sometimes I think that all of the diagnostic technology can make me a lazy nurse.  I don't need to listen to lungs if I have a chest x-ray. What does it matter what heart sounds the patient has when I have an EKG and cardiac enzymes? I really only need to hear enough of your symptoms in triage to figure out what labs to order.

So I really benefit by being involved in health care organizations where resources are limited. If I don't have a chest xray, I actually have to put my stethoscope on the patient and listen to his lungs.

Here in Gainesville, I volunteer at Helping Hands, a clinic for the homeless and people who have limited incomes and health care resources.  It was founded in 1989, and provides primary, psychiatric, and urgent care to clients. 

Image courtesy Helping Hands Clinic (
Helping Hands operates out of a church building. The space is clean and comfortable, but there is no x-ray, no lab, no EKG machine. If these services are needed, the patient must be referred to the Health Department.  The patient has to leave the clinic, obtain the diagnostics, and return the following week for treatment. It's necessary in many cases, but whenever possible, the providers at the clinic attempt to treat the patient based on what they see and hear.

Last November I was blessed to be included in a mission trip to Haiti. We worked with Aid for Haiti and traveled to the mountain village of Sankeyum (near Petit Goave) to set up a clinic. We were blessed with a well stocked pharmacy and translators, but little diagnostic equipment. We were left with our hands, our ears, and our stethoscopes to help us treat patients.

Michael, the field director for Aid for Haiti, setting up supplies
Despite our limited equipment (or maybe because of it), we treated over 400 patients in four days. This included two dental extractions and two minor surgeries on the dining room table.

Wade performing surgery, Billy assisting, Pastor Wilmont holding the flashlight and translating
I read a lot of Minimalist blogs, but I'm still not a minimalist- anyone who's seen the inside of my closet can attest to this. However, I've really benefited by getting involved with organizations that accomplish a lot with limited resources.  It's truly an inspiration to see the level of dedication and organization required to make it work. People don't say, "We can't do that." They say, "Let's see if we can make it work."

That positive, can-do attitude is contagious. If complaints could generate electricity, the entire hospital could be run off the words of the staff (mine included, sad to say). But out in the mountains of Haiti, where the surgeon is operating with the wrong size gloves and someone has to hold the flashlight because the generator stopped working, we all finish the day by giving thanks for what we could accomplish.

Do I think poor people in America deserve to have the same level of health care as everyone else? Absolutely. Do temporary clinics in the remote villages of Haiti adequately meet the medical needs of the people there? Not at all. But until these problems can be solved on a larger scale, I want to keep getting involved at the ground level. Because I want to help others have better lives, but also because it forces me to be a better nurse.

By the way, if you want to learn more about Helping Hands clinic, click here. And if you want to learn more about Aid for Haiti, click here. I can't say enough about these amazing organizations. I have been proud to donate time and money to both and would love to hear if you have been inspired to do the same.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid). Do you have any examples of times when you benefited from having less?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Getting Juicy

Raise a glass to Ma Nature for creating these awesome flavors!

I have a new toy that I absolutely LOVE! It's a Breville Juice Fountain, and I have been using it to create lots of healthy, delicious vegetable and fruit juice.

What happened is that I saw the movie Fat Sick and Nearly Dead, about two guys who were overweight and unhealthy, but turned their lives around with a 60 day fruit and vegetable juice fast.

I'm not planning to give up solid food or anything, but there was some logic to the idea that juicing the produce concentrates the nutrients. You could never eat a bunch of kale, a whole cucumber, some celery, two apples, and a lemon, but you can get most of the good stuff from the juice. Beth juices too, and says, "If I make some juice in the morning, I feel like I can do anything after." Our friend Kristi just got a juicer and she says she feels great. So I thought I could try making a little juice every day and see how I feel.

Really, how could you NOT feel good after drinking this?

So I don't know exactly what all these "toxins" are that I keep hearing people talk about, but they must be a thing. The first few days of juicing I was super tired and achy. Then suddenly I felt great, with lots of energy. The explanation from the movie is that the "toxins" hurt coming out more than they did going in. I would have thought I was low toxin- I eat lots of organic produce, mostly avoid processed food, and exercise regularly.  But when I thought about it, I realized that I live in a condo complex that sprays insecticide every month, and probably uses chemical fertilizer on the lawn. I run outside and sometimes get a face full of diesel exhaust from the buses. Sometimes I microwave food in plastic containers. And let's face it, there are lots of things in our food that aren't exactly food.  So I probably have some extra stuff to get rid of.

On work days I get home at about 8pm. I walk the dog, take a shower, and then I'm ready for dinner. It used to be a bowl of pasta or something equally starchy, accompanied by a glass (or two) of red wine. I knew that I didn't need that many calories so late in the evening, but it's really hard to have any willpower when I'm exhausted after a 12-hour day.

Now that I have my juicer, I have been making a glass of Mean Green Juice, which was featured in the movie, and drinking that for dinner. The juice is actually very filling, so I don't miss the solid food. It's also got a really strong flavor (I'm getting used to it), and I don't want wine with it. I think I'm sleeping more deeply and feeling more energetic during the day. Also, I have lost 3 pounds in the past 10 days!

So here are some of my favorite juice recipes:

Mean Green Juice- as featured in Fat Sick and Nearly Dead
*I got this off a blog called My Juice Cleanse, which has the best tag line ever: "Because Fruits and Vegetables Love You Back.

6 stems of kale
1 cucumber
4 stalks of celery
2 green apples
1/2 lemon
1 piece of ginger (I usually cut about a 1 inch piece)

Wash all of the produce, slice the end and the yellow rind off of the lemon (it's OK to leave the pith), cut the apple into chunks. Juice the kale first and then everything else.  Serve right away over ice or cover and refrigerate for later.

Carrot-Beet Juice
*Modified from this recipe I found on Food.Com

6-8 carrots
1 small beet
a 1 inch piece of ginger

Trim the ends off of the beet (no need to peel), and the tops off of the carrots. Juice half of the carrots, the beet, the ginger, and then the other half of the carrots.

Photos sans makeup are all the rage right now!

Morning Glory Juice
*My own concoction. I love it after a morning run

4 carrots
2 Granny Smith apples
a handful of strawberries
a 1-2 inch piece of ginger

Rinse everything well. Trim the tops off the carrots, cut the apples into chunks, and pull the leaves off of the strawberries. This stuff is like orange juice on steroids- sweet, tangy, and zippy from the ginger.

A quick word on produce- most of the websites that have juice recipes really encourage using organic produce. I can understand the logic, because if the pesticides are really harmful, then you concentrate them by juicing. On the other hand, it hurts my inner cheapskate to grind up a three dollar cucumber and produce a half cup of juice. So I'm going with a 50/50 strategy. Organic lemons and celery aren't much more expensive than conventional. I found some local organic kale at Wards (my very favorite local business), and it was the same price as the regular kale at Publix. It won't be in season much longer, so I'll probably go back to Publix when Wards stops carrying it. I always buy organic apples after hearing that they are the most pesticide-sprayed fruit, and anyway the organic ones taste much better. Organic carrots aren't too pricey. But conventional cucumbers are about 75 cents each and the organic ones are $2-3, so guess what goes into my juice? Ditto strawberries- I bought local berries this week but the organic were twice the price.  Organic ginger is pretty expensive, but you use such a small amount that it's worth the splurge.

By the way, don't toss the rind that you trim off the lemons. Add it to water or tea for a nice lemon flavor.

Ladybug optional, but adds protein

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and try adding some extra produce to your day!
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