April 2015

The Moral Bucket List by David Brooks – NYT Sunday Review

This Sunday in The New York Times, there was an article titled “The Moral Bucket List” by David Brooks. It is so similar to other things I’ve been reading and thinking lately, that I thought I’d share it with you in case you missed it. In the article, Brooks talks about those happy people you come across who seem to radiate a lightness of spirit. I typically refer to these people as “contagiously happy” people. They are the type of person you just want to be around and who make you feel valued. In the article, Brooks goes on to explore the things that make up these people and gives a short list of the things he thinks we can each do to build this kind of happiness within ourselves. His list includes being self-aware and humble, working on your weaknesses, accepting help from others, and taking risks. For more insight about these things, I’d recommend taking a gander a the article. Here is an excerpt to get you hooked:

Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a version of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?

Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were. The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative.

The Language of Food

foodWhenever I read books about food, such as Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” I begin thinking deeply about my own food choices and vowing to make improvements. For this reason, I decided that this month’s health focus could be prodded on by at least one “fun” book about food in addition to all of the books I’ve picked up for research purposes. I chose “The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu” by Dan Jurafsky, which I happened upon in my library’s new nonfiction section. Not only does this fulfill my requirement of being about food, but it also appeals to my own interest in linguistics, so I felt it was a perfect fit.

This book was a quick read that was enjoyable and fun. Not only do we get some fun linguistic knowledge, but also some interesting history of food trivia that could come in handy later. We learn such tidbits as ketchup originated in China, as well as the fact that it is we Americans, rather than the Europeans, who are still using the correct meaning of the word entree. Throughout the book, Jurafsky also includes recipes, which is always a fun addition to a book, especially a book about food.

The Complete Guide to Detoxing Your Body

detoxI’m sorry guys, but I hate, hate, hated this book. I’m sure I’m in the minority of people who pick up this book and then decide they dislike it. I am just SO over all of the vegan, gluten-free, nut allergy, hoo-ha that is shoved down our throats. I picked up this book because I wanted recipes and a schedule, which it provides, finally, in Chapter 9, but by that point I just wanted to throw the book out the window. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who are interested in all the whys associated with deciding to detox, but I have to say that if you are buying this book, you’ve already made that decision. You don’t need to be convinced. At least, I don’t anyway. So, in fact, this book actually made me decide NOT to detox because I was so angry at it. If you want to detox, just take Michale Pollan’s advice and eat whole foods, stay at the edges of the grocery store, and avoid processed foods. Done and done.


As you know, one of my goals for this month has been to drink less coffee and alcohol, and to drink more water instead. I took on this goal because, after a month of tracking my diet, I found that many of my excess calories are coming from lattes and wine.  In addition, I’ve been wanting to lower my coffee intake to save money and possibly to sleep better. Another reason for giving up caffeine and alcohol is that I get terrible leg cramps when I get dehydrated. Therefore, because alcohol dehydrates me and my constant coffee drinking has caused a major decrease in my water consumption, I need to reduce my intake or else give up running (I will never give up running!). The problem though has been to motivate myself to drink more water in lieu of my favored beverages. All of this logical reasoning just wasn’t enough.

My solution? Lemon water (obviously). My best friend, Leslie, has been extolling the miracles of lemon water for years, but I never really let it sink in until recently. I spent some time a few weeks back researching lemon water to see if it had any added health benefits – turns out there are quite a few, including fresher breath and better digestion. Win! Given all of my reasoning, I decided to finally follow in Leslie’s footseps and adopt a morning lemon water regime in lieu of my coffee habit. This is also perfectly timed with the changing of the seasons, which will make the habit easier to cement into my daily routine. Once it begins getting warmer I find that I don’t really enjoy coffee beverages as much anyway. Yes, even the iced variety. I think it’s something about drinking milk when it’s hot out. It just doesn’t sit right with me. Lemon water is a great trade off. It allows me to drink something refreshing and flavored throughout the day that’s low in calories and doesn’t make me feel bad about myself. It also fulfills my need to have something to drink with me in class – I do this because it gives me something to do with my hands while my students are thinking over questions or doing group work and also because I sometimes get parched after two hours of talking.

One thing that had originally put me off about this idea of lemon water though was the inconvenience of it. Let’s face it, I’m lazy. I didn’t know if I’d really slice up lemons every morning and clean a water bottle every evening to make this goal work for me. Luckily, I happened upon this fabulous water bottle that has a lemon squeezer at the bottom, so there is minimal effort on my part. I just have to slice that lemon in half, stick it in there and go. It seriously couldn’t be easier. Even better, it makes it so the water is really infused with lemon, which I love.

What do you think? Have you tried any of the fruit infusion water bottles? Any favorite recipes? I tend to stick with just lemon, but there must be some other delicious choices out there. Please feel free to share them with me!

As I’ve been thinking more about how to live a more contented life, I have begun doing a bit of research about what makes people happy. I got a library card and checked out a couple of books like “100 Habits of Happy People” and other similar titles. One book, however, has really changed how I want to approach this project: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I have not finished this book (I’m only on Chapter 6), but already I am impressed with the process that Mrs. Rubin describes in her book and am very excited to develop my own Happiness Project in a more organized way. With that in mind, I have broken my goals down into categories and will work on one aspect of my life at a time, rather than approaching a variety of goals at once and adding new ones all willy nilly as I have been doing. One of the nice things about this, too, is that focusing on one area of my life will inevitably improve other areas. For example, my choice to make coffee at home not only helps me to cut out some major calories (health and fitness), but it also helps me to save money (financial).

When I took an inventory of my happiness, the number one thing I felt was affecting my mood and general discontent was my physical health. I have gained 15 pounds since returning to the United States and have picked up some bad habits like drinking less water, eating out too often, and going to bed too late. Because this is having such an effect on other areas of my life, I thought it would be best to focus on this area first. So, now I’m putting it in writing. Below are my goals for this month. I plan to talk about each one in more detail as the month goes on, but wanted to get this out there so I’m committed to it. If you have any suggestions or help to offer, please do! I’d love to hear about you own health and fitness goals and what you’ve done to achieve them!

Month 1 – April – Let’s Get Physical
Eat healthier – eat more vegetables, eat less sugar
Less caffeine and alcohol, more water
Take vitamins
Exercise regularly and MIX IT UP (5X/WK)
Use sunscreen + moisturizer every day
Ride bike to work more often (3X/WK)
Get more sleep – Early to bed, early to rise
Stretch morning and night (esp. hamstrings!)