Friday, November 13, 2015

Nerdy Birthday Goodies

I had an Amazon gift certificate for my birthday a while back, and I finally got around to ordering some stuff with it. I ordered books, of course (although I did have a look at their perfume offerings, I swear!).

I was telling the girls what I ordered, but they weren't all that familiar with the books or the authors, even though the books are fantastic fiction and Husband and I rave about them. Sophia and Elannah were both born with some sort of gene mutation that makes them enjoy horror movies and horror stories. I and their father, on the other hand, aren't even emotionally comfortable with extreme thrillers, and both their grandmothers would probably give them a good, long lecture about the evils of their heart-racing entertainment choices (I read part of one Stephen King novel when I was 15 and we were driving cross-country to visit my grandparents in California. I didn't like it much, but it was all I had with me. My mom happened to pick it up and page through it, was aghast at some of the subject matter, and then impulsively threw it out of the window somewhere in the middle of the Mojave Desert). So where they developed a love for a good scare, I have no idea whatsoever. As long as their scary movies and books aren't raunchy, linguistically shocking, gory, or X-rated, I'm all right with it even if I don't understand their little alien minds.

Sian and Gabrielle are better devotees of Husband's and my book preferences. Gabrielle, in particular, is a frantic fan of Brandon Sanderson. Perhaps it's because we had more time to read them fantasy and science fiction as small children--before their siblings came along and outnumbered us as parents and Barney the Dinosaur took over a lot of the entertainment duties.

Anyway, Sophia and Elannah weren't all that excited when I informed them that we will now possess our own copies of Brandon Sanderson's The Alloy of Law and Jonathan Stroud's The Screaming Staircase. When I told them that our collections were closer to complete, they mumbled something without much enthusiasm.

"I also ordered an adult coloring book!" I said brightly.

There was a silence, pregnant with disapproval.

"Um, Mom? What, exactly, is an adult coloring book?" asked Sophia, eyebrows raised. "Is it, like, not appropriate for children?"

I can see where she would make that obvious mistake. But "adult coloring books" is how they're listed on Amazon and it's how people describe them when they rave about the mental relaxation benefits of coloring in them. It's easier than calling them "coloring books for adults who wish they could escape back into the best parts of childhood again."

Rest assured, the coloring pages in adult coloring books aren't racy. In fact, they are filled with scenes of men and women sitting at the kitchen table paying bills, shopping at the grocery store with a list, making sensible shoe choices, leaning against an office desk holding a Dilbert mug, and--in one of the more moving scenes--dancing around a bonfire on which they are burning the mortgage papers.

I kid, of course. The one I chose mainly contains scenes of ladies who lunch.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What if Addiction is Not a Disease?

Chances are you know someone who is addicted to a substance or a behavior. It might even be you who is addicted to drugs, alcohol, porn, gambling, excessive shopping, gaming, an eating disorder or some other thing taken to a harmful level that simultaneously makes you miserable even as you anticipate the rush of the next fix.

Chances are you have been told that addiction is a brain disease from which there is some relief but no cure. That's the most popular theory going. The other main theory (fortunately, not as prevalent today) is that addiction is a choice, and people who do not give up their addiction are morally repugnant because they consciously choose their addiction over their health, their family, and their careers. That's just stupid and ignorant.

I have a sibling who is addicted to alcohol. He is not in denial, and he has already willingly submitted to a medical rehab program; however, the addiction remains. He's a great guy, and I know he feels a great deal of shame and self-loathing about how compelled he is to drink even though he hates what he is doing to himself. While the medical rehab worked to get his body accustomed to the lack of alcohol, it did nothing to help him discover the underlying psychological reasons for why he started drinking so much in the first place. That issue remains.

I picked up a book at the library a couple weeks ago that brilliantly answered the question of what addiction is and how the brain works during addiction. I was fascinated by it from page one. It's called The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease by Marc Lewis, PhD.

Lewis, a neuroscientist, gives definitive reasons why classifying addiction as a disease is both biologically incorrect and damaging to addicts. It's great for the medical establishment, he acknowledges, as well as for the rehab industry. Medical professionals love to put labels on things (not to mention the pharmaceutical industry, which loves a good disease because it means they can create a profitable drug to fix it), and expensive rehab programs also benefit from the disease label.

For addicts, however, having your addiction classified as a disease is both demoralizing and incorrectly describes what is happening in the brain. To understand that addiction is a powerful (and extreme) result of desire helps addicts understand what is happening and how to change it in order to kick the addiction.

Lewis shows how the brain's neuroplasticity--the ability of the brain to change and evolve and then stabilize into particular pathways, only to evolve again when needed--is both the  culprit and the savior for addiction. He lays out in layman's terms the process of how habits are formed: the neural pathways getting reinforced, the synapses building and multiplying, and the dopamine cascade that helps create that rut of habit. He describes the parts of the brain that are involved in both habit and addiction and how they work together. It soon becomes obvious that addiction is an extreme result of the stabilizing of particular habits, and the brain responds to cues surrounding the anticipation of the substance or behavior.

Lewis introduces us to five different people who have eventually kicked their addictions of choice (including one with an eating disorder). While each person and case is unique, there are underlying similarities. One similarity is that the root psychological cause of addiction is a sensation of suppression or lack, usually formed in childhood or early adolescence. The addiction, then, attempts to fill that hole. When the root cause is unearthed, examined, and understood by the addict, the need for the substance automatically begins to lessen as the former addict rewires the synaptic pathways into new habits with different cues and different results.

Lewis shows how impulsivity hardens into compulsivity as the brain is wired into a certain pathway as the addiction takes hold. Even as the addict loathes the addiction (or loves it, which is also the case), he cannot help himself from obsessing and planning the next fix. This is compulsivity. Addiction is the twin sister to OCD.

I won't go into all the biological points Lewis makes--and he makes them extremely well in a manner that any person can understand and enjoy--but his main argument is that you cannot classify the brain as diseased when it is merely doing exactly what it is designed to do. Instead, once you understand what is happening, you use the brain's natural neuroplasticity to make needed changes.

I loved this book. It was an absolute page-turner. If you know an addict or are one yourself, this book will give you tremendous hope. Boyd K. Packer, late elder in the LDS church, said, "True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior." In this case, studying the principles of how the brain actually works will help addicts and their loved ones more effectively work to change behavior. I'm not an addict, but I saw excellent applications for this knowledge in my own life. I've read many books on habits and how to change them (the study of behavior), but the study of true doctrine of how the brain works has done more for my desire and ability to change bad habits into good ones than all of those books combined.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Facebook Rage: Resolved

I finally did it: I deactivated my Facebook account.

I was finally done with it. Just done. And the pain of keeping the account was more than the pain of deactivating. In a little while, when it's obvious that my world doesn't end because I don't sign in on a daily basis, I will delete my account entirely.

Long-time readers know I coined the term Facebook Rage to describe my inexplicable anger whenever I logged in and spent way too much time sifting through my newsfeed.

Some of you are already way ahead of me. You either never signed up or you have quit before this point. You already know Facebook is a time-suck as well as a great way for advertisers to get to use your information for free. I'm not even going to get into the whole NSA spying thing.

What's more, you already realize that Facebook represents an alternate reality, a reality that exposes everything most shallow about our society.

Some of you can handle Facebook just fine and are not victims of Facebook Rage like I am.

I salute you. All of you. (slow clap of approval)

So what was the final straw for me? It wasn't the fact that I dislike any of my friends, because I don't--even if I heartily disagree with some of them on just about every issue imaginable. It wasn't because I didn't find some downright delicious recipes or hilarious videos. It wasn't because I don't have friends whose status updates aren't clever and humorous or upbeat and informative.

There are two things I hate about the whole social media world (not that I ever use my Twitter account, and I'm not even signed up for any other social media sites): the fact that a relationship on social media is so often different than a relationship with the same person face-to-face; and the culture of unthinking impulsivity that social media encourages.

The first hate point is particularly repugnant to me. I am not a child of the digital age, and when I was a teen in the '80s, if you wanted to build a relationship with someone, you had to put time and effort into it. You had to spend time together, talk about things, get to know and accept each others' quirks and flaws, and celebrate each others' strengths. If you were too far away to see each other in person, you had to write letters (snail mail!) or make a phone call (on a rotary phone!).

In short, it took a lot of deliberate thought and consideration to create and maintain a friendship. Sometimes it was worth it and you worked at it, and sometimes people slipped out of your life because you either couldn't or wouldn't keep it up. It was just the way of things.

These days, I have Facebook friends from every single era of my life since I was four years old. I have friends from every place I've ever lived, every major activity I've ever been involved in, and every maturity level I have reached. People who had once slipped away from my life have been restored. Huzzah! But what kind of relationship do I have with these hundreds of people? How much time do I (or they) have to maintain more than the most superficial of acquaintances? For some, it's enough to know you can reach out and say hello whenever you want. But for me, that superficiality is just painful.

Even worse (for me) is having a relationship with someone on Facebook that doesn't match up to real life. With people I know right now, that I see in my neighborhood and in my community and at church, there is often this dichotomy. We may interact digitally, but there is no continuation of that in real life. When you meet that same person face-to-face, there won't be a lot of talking or carrying on. A couple of them walk right on by without saying anything at all (I am, of course, not counting times when such people are busy and can't stop)!

The nature of Facebook and other social media is that it keeps relationships and communication slightly impersonal, and you don't necessarily want to see one of your Facebook friends in real life if you're not really interested in putting effort into a real relationship. It's so much easier to keep it online--safe and sequestered from the sometimes less-than-simple nuances of real life.

I accept that. Fine. But it drives me absolutely nuts, and I will not have it for myself anymore. If we wouldn't be friends in real life, then why are we pretending in the digital world? Screw the digital shadow. I'd rather keep it 100% real.

My second hate point is how much social media in particular seems to have stopped people from evolving into thoughtful, considerate, critically thinking beings. Or, rather, how the social media culture has encouraged us all to be creatures of unthinking impulsivity. What I mean by this is that it's so easy to get caught up in the immediate reaction, the instant emotion. Some controversial news story or status update pops up, and immediately you feel the need to respond.

Because social media also allows each of us to share our opinions over and over, we get used to this freedom to never have to sit down, think it through, and then wisely decide if your opinion (and corresponding emotion) is valid or not before sharing it over and over again. We've elevated our personal opinions to celebrity status.

Facebook is the first and best school for knee-jerk reactions. I've been a knee-jerker more than once, and I have despised myself for it every single time. Did I really think I was going to change someone else's opinion about something by ranting about it? Has anyone else's knee-jerk reaction ever changed my own opinion?

This may make me sound absolutely callous, but I really couldn't care less about 600+ peoples' opinions on all the minutiae of life, on the latest trending news stories in all their salacious or controversial glory, or whether or not my personal opinions are acceptable to anyone else. When I want someone's opinion, I have asked for it. I decided, too, that if I don't care for everyone else's unsolicited opinions on absolutely everything, I would no longer clutter up the timeline with my own.

Lastly, of course, is that Facebook takes up far too much of my time. So if you haven't read this and you ask me why I deactivated my account, that's what I'll tell you.

For the people whose friendship I wish to continue to actively cultivate, I have email addresses (if they live far away), or I will be more than happy when I see them in person around town or in the neighborhood or at church, and if they're amenable, we'll have a little chat.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Reflections on My Frequent Idiocy

A young lady I know was lamenting on Facebook about the fact that she just wants everyone to be happy for her and support her choices instead of giving her grief. Knowing that she has made some questionable decisions recently and is making yet another very questionable decision that I cannot agree to cheer on, I had to stop and think about things for a minute.

The young lady in question is an adult and she has good parents who love and support her. It has never occurred to me to share my thoughts on the potential consequences of her behavior with her because I am not a person she would generally look to for advice (and, indeed, she has not asked me for advice in this particular situation, either). But she shares so much of her life publicly that I can't help having an opinion, and I resent being guilted into cheering her on no matter what she decides to do and how stupid I think it may be for her future. I would not want my own daughters to follow her example, as wonderful of a person she genuinely is.

What I'm really grateful for is that God doesn't let any of us get away with insisting on being cheered on in our unwise decisions. When I have headed down a path to pain and try to justify myself, God never says, "Well, kid, maybe you're right, and maybe those rigorous commandments I gave you aren't all that important--especially since you've seen something shiny and you are pretty sure it will make you happy even if I have warned you otherwise. I could be wrong here. I mean, what do I know? You might be so darn special and unique that you can somehow avoid the negative consequences of those actions that EVERY OTHER PERSON IN HISTORY has had to experience."

Yes, I'm really grateful that Heavenly Father isn't a sarcastic jerk.

Instead, He lovingly speaks to us, and we hear him when we're humble enough to listen. I'm pretty sure He speaks to each of us in the tone of voice that we are most willing to listen to. For me, the tone of voice chastens me in the most kind but exact manner, and with some humor. I am led to see my errors, but never allowed to feel irredeemable. He assures me of his unconditional love for me, and yet, He never compromises in His requirements. If I want to make a stupid decision, He never withholds the negative consequences. If I insist on learning the hard way, at least it's a lesson I'll remember well (if not fondly).

So I wish this young woman the best of luck in her future endeavors, but I will not be standing and cheering her on in trying to be the exception to the rule. I don't want my Heavenly Father to ever coddle me in making wrong choices, either. No matter how much I might fight it, resent it, and throw a temper tantrum, I don't ever want my Heavenly Father to give up on reminding me that there are, indeed, immutable truths, and that I am only going to hurt myself by bashing my head against them.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Share the Warm Glow with Me

I'm kind of looking forward to tomorrow. It will be the first day in a long time that I won't have work assignments--contract or otherwise--hanging over my head. Of course, the downside is I'm not sure when I'll get more contract work, but I think I'll just take some time to enjoy the stress-free day. Wringing my hands in anxiety never seems to work anyway.

I'll do dishes, for one thing. And laundry. And I'm planning on writing a list of every little job that needs doing around the house and slowly working my way through it. The kitchen cupboards, for instance, desperately need rearranging, as some of them are filled with things I never use. What the heck was I thinking when I picked up one of those little donut makers?? Sure, it was a thrift store find, but still! I have never once used it.

Another plus: since I only have two children still young enough to trick-or-treat, the candy load in the house is minimal. I bought a bag of candy that I don't like (Skittles and Life Saver gummies) so when we put it all into a bowl to hand out to the kids at the door, I wouldn't be tempted to snack on it. The boys already gave me all the Reese's peanut butter cups they had (and I consumed them), so we're down to the Tootsie Rolls and Starbursts (for which there is no temptation), and I'm feeling pretty good about that.

I did, however, buy apple cider. The kids don't like it, but Husband and I always make hot mulled cider for Halloween evening.

I started and finished a Korean soap/drama in October (You're All Surrounded). It kept me sane while I wrote endless articles about golf, a subject on which I have no practical experience and which is not at all interesting to me. While I still can't play the game, I've got a lot more theoretical knowledge about it than I used to. Perhaps that will come in handy someday. I imagine myself in a tight spot when, suddenly, my previously trivial education in golf will allow me to MacGuyver my way out of dying a horrible death. I'll keep you updated on that as events warrant.

I got to teach Sunday School today. It's my regular job (calling) at church, and I confess that I love this calling more than any other calling in the world. I'm the only teacher, so I get to prepare lessons every week instead of sharing teaching duties with a team teacher. As we've been studying the New Testament this year, it means that I've read and learned so much; and then I get to share what I am learning with my class!

Joseph gave us a bit of an asthma scare last week. I had to take him to the doctor on Saturday, and we were fortunate that even though they were booked solid, the doctor still carved out a bit of time to see us. Joseph needed steroids to deal with the current crisis, and because the doctor saw us, we didn't have to end up taking Joseph into the hospital today.

I'm just feeling good today. Thanks for letting me share with you.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Please Pass the Sauerkraut!

Last week, I walked into the library and spotted the latest book by Robin Hobb winking at me from the New Arrivals shelf. I danced a little jig (which the librarians completely understood), and took the  heavy, shiny new book to my house, where I devoured it over the course of three or four days.

But normally, as you know, I am very careful about when I allow myself to read fiction, taking into consideration my ability to completely and utterly forsake every other activity--such as feeding the children, showering, or working--until I've finished the last word.

It's an addiction. I admit it.

So my last checkout, which was a non-fiction book, totally surprised me by being just as readable as any fiction novel. I've pored over it and neglected stuff almost as much as when I read fiction, only because there are no characters or plot line in which to become personally invested, I have an easier time putting it down. Still, it's fascinating.

The book is The Art of Fermentation: An In-depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World (with practical information on fermenting vegetables, fruits, grains, milk, beans, meats, and more) by Sandor Ellix Katz. Who wouldn't want to tear into something with that intriguing title? And, since I have had great success in making my own delicious fermented sauerkraut and rejuvelac (a beverage made by soaking whole grains in water), I was hooked.

Katz's previous book, Wild Fermentation: the Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Food offers more specific recipes and how-to's, but The Art of Fermentation takes you around the world to get a peek at how globally prevalent fermentation is as a method of food storage as well as cultural cuisine. Before refrigeration and electricity were the norm, people had to preserve foods in other ways. Fermentation not only preserves foods for long periods of time, but those foods provide a great deal of nutrition along with their rich flavors.

Fermentation is the process of encouraging specific, desirable cultures of bacteria (or, in some cases, mold) to begin breaking down the sugars, fibers, and cell walls of a food before consumption. The fermenting process literally pre-digests the food, allowing your body to reap greater benefits from the now unlocked nutrients that are normally trapped within. The environment of a successful ferment also prevents the growth of the types of bacteria that spoil or putrify fresh food and cause illness or even death (I'm looking at you, Clostridium botulinum!).

Americans probably don't consider just how much of our food is fermented. There are the obvious alcoholic beverages, of course, but we regularly consume fermented vegetables (pickles of all sorts, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.), dairy (yogurt, kefir, cheeses, sour cream, buttermilk), meats (salamis, sausages), breads (sourdoughs) and others. Commercial food production has taken so many shortcuts that we are no longer likely to get truly fermented food products on the grocery store shelves anymore, but the ones we do buy and eat were originally based on truly fermented food.

Truly fermented food, though it can be an acquired taste, is so good for you. The same bacteria that make up a healthy human gut also populate fermented foods, so when you eat real ferments, you are strengthening your gut. Gut health is largely ignored by Western medicine, but when you have a healthy gut, you have a healthy body. Prescription medications, antibiotics, junk food, and refined foods are insidious because they cause a massive imbalance in the gut flora and fauna. This imbalance allows one or two strains of microbes to overproduce, which is why so many people suffer from an overgrowth of Candida yeast, for instance. When the gut is healthy, microbes grow in a balanced, beneficial way, and work to extract the nutrients from the whole foods you eat and distribute them to your blood stream, cells, and tissues. If you have an imbalance, the yeasts and bacteria that become too prevalent demand the foods they love--usually sugar and simple carbohydrates. The gut can no longer adequately break down and absorb nutrients, and your gut becomes severely damaged, leading to chronic diseases and inflammation of the entire body.

I'm not sure I'm ready for fermented mare's milk, but I don't live on the Mongolian steppes, where mare's milk is one of the primary sources of food. But I would love to step up my fermenting experimentation with more vegetables, grains, and dairy and use some of the methods that other cultures have used. Asian cultures, especially, have perfected fermentation. I would love to try making my own tempeh (which is actually culturing mold, not bacteria), for instance. Or Japanese koji, which is similar to tempeh but also uses rice or barely as substrates on which to culture the right mold.

My cabbage sauerkraut is going to get some other vegetable additions, too. And rejuvelac and other beneficial, non-alcoholic fermented beverages are so exciting to me. Kombucha, anyone?

I haven't been more successful at ferments simply because I haven't gotten into the rhythm of taking care of them. Ferments, starters, and cultures are kind of like pets in that they need regular attention in order to thrive. If you start small, I'm sure you get accustomed to it gradually, both in developing a taste for fermented foods and getting better at nurturing them to maturity.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

It's Not about My Ego: It's about What Needs to be Done

I'm doing some contract work for the company that just laid me off.

Hey, it's money, and while I look for another job, it helps boost the budget.

My contact is the president who delivered the bad news last week, and we're both trying to figure out how this works now. It really is like being dumped and then having your ex ask if you still want to be friends, and then both of you figuring out what the new boundaries are and how you're going to communicate. For instance, can I still talk to all of his friends (my former co-workers) who used to be my friends, too? Do I log in to their communication and organization software in order to move assignments along like I used to, or do I only communicate to them through my contact?


I like them all fine. They are good, upstanding people. But I cannot lie and say that it doesn't kill me just a little to have to accept contract work from them. I'd much rather find some awesome new job and then tell them I'm too busy so they can find someone else to do the contract writing and we can all be on an equal footing once again.

Meanwhile, I will be researching and writing extensively about one of my least favorite subjects: golf. Golf! I've only ever played mini-golf, but I am writing to an audience of avid golfers, so my work is definitely cut out for me.

I am also polishing up my resume and looking around at my options.