It’s Okay to Change Your Mind (aka: Finding Your Niche)

what-color-is-your-parachute-bookMy 15-year-old daughter recently complained that she’s not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. As she’s only a sophomore in high school, I would love to tell her to just relax; she’s got a few more years to really decide. But, being a long-range planner myself, I also get the anxiety of not knowing exactly where you’re headed in life.

She needs a “thing.”

I firmly believe that everyone has a “thing,” or a niche. Some of those niches may be better than others, though, especially when it comes to career planning.

My oldest son, who is a senior this year, has several niches: playing computer games, creating music for computer games, and listening to music on the expensive wireless headphones he decided he couldn’t live without. I am really, really hoping that he finds some way to merge these niches into some kind of lucrative career. Either that or just do what I tell him and study computer science in college next year. I’m kind of hoping he’ll find a more productive niche in that direction.

My youngest son’s niches also involve computers. His, however, also include developing computer games using simple code, like Scratch, and building complicated, programmable Lego robots. He is dead-set on becoming an engineer one day (woohoo!!). His other niches include writing stories and using his gigantic vocabulary to invent new “clean” swear words, like “Oh sheep!”

future-jobs-signs

My daughter has a lot of niches. She’s a great athlete. She draws anime and comic strip characters. She writes stories, and is constantly learning new skills, like HTML code and jazz dance. She thinks she wants to become a doctor, but is getting nervous that it’s too ambitious, or that she won’t like studying medicine after all.

“No worries,” I tell her. “Just plan to go to med school and become a doctor. You can always change your mind later.”

I should know. I’m kind of the queen of drastic changes in niches.

When I was six years old, I wrote an essay on how I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. That, and a tap dancer. The tap-dancing thing never got off the ground, but I have always been a writer. When I went to college, I was clueless about careers, and had no adult guidance. So I did the only thing I knew well, thanks to countless babysitting jobs – I got a BA degree in Child Development and went on to become a teacher of young children. Eventually, I was even a site supervisor and parent educator, too.

kids-careers-jobs-costumes At the time, it was my niche. I was great at belting out Raffi tunes, finding creative ways to teach phonics, and managing a classroom. It was also kind of cool teaching other parents how to parent. But know what? It was a boring, mindless career. And it barely paid enough to buy the gas it took to drive to work each day.

So, I changed my mind.

I returned to college to add a couple more small degrees. Then I landed my true dream job, in the IT industry. I still get to use some of my old talents, like teaching and finding creative ways to problem solve. But I also get to develop and administer software systems and databases. I get to use my brain. Which is nice, because it’s a pretty great brain, so long as I get enough sleep.

Yes, I still write. That will always be my greatest niche. I also still plan to be a tap dancer. Okay, I am totally kidding. The next time I change my mind, I think I’ll go into management. It seems kind of like teaching preschool, only you have to go to a lot of meetings, and you get paid more.

Zzzzzzz (aka: You Really Need More Sleep)

sleeping Focus on the light. Relax your mind. You’re getting sleeeeepy…

Oh wait. Hang on. If you fall asleep, then you’ll miss reading the rest of this blog post. And you really don’t want to miss it, because today we are focusing on the most important thing in your life (whether you acknowledge it or not).

You guessed it. The most important thing in your life is sleep. And if you are like many Americans, you’re not getting enough of it. Get Some Sleep

It’s the strangest thing. From a very young age, the importance of getting good, regular sleep is drilled into our brains. Take a nap! Go to bed right now, young lady! What — are you still awake reading books with a flashlight? Ten points from Ravenclaw!

Yawn.

Sleep is such a dreadful bore, isn’t it? Especially when we have work to do, soccer games to watch, and kids to shuttle around town to activities. And then, to top it all off, we have to spend another 7-8 hours in bed, doing absolutely nothing? So unproductive!

Of course, there’s that part we like to forget about. That part in which not getting enough regular good sleep can be hazardous to our health, as well as the health of people around us. Need a reminder? Okay. Not getting enough sleep can lead to:

Weight gain

Memory difficulties

Cognitive Impair

Diminished sex life

Irritability / Mood Swings

Decreased attention span

Inability to adapt to change

Heart disease

Diabetes

Weakened immune system

Depression / apathy

Diminished decision-making ability

Higher risk of auto accidents

sleep deprivationOkay time out. This list sounds just as bad as those side-effect lists on drug commercials. Diseases! Cognitive decline! Depression! Potentially deadly auto accidents! And yet, even knowing this, many of us will push off sleep until we absolutely can’t keep our eyes open. Just one more episode. Just one more chapter. Just one more hour of this exciting video game. Just one more zzzzz….

I’d write some more about sleep, but you know what? I think I’ll just go and get some.

How much sleep do you really need

Sources:

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why

http://www.apa.org/topics/sleep/why.aspx

http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/9-reasons-to-sleep-more

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/from/sleep.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/11/natural-sleep-aids_n_3882229.html

Dried Up (aka: Surviving The California Drought)

The Great Drought“I remember way back in the olden days,” says the old woman in a quavery voice, “before California transformed into the Great Western Desert.” She leans back in her chair and looks at the children gathered around her, their eyes filled with wonder. “The lush rolling hills. The sparkling lakes. Back when we had so much water…” She leans in close and drops her voice. “People used to water their lawns nearly every day, just to keep them green.”

The children scream in horror. Who would do such a thing?

Okay, okay, a little melodramatic, perhaps. But seriously…here we are, in the middle of one of California’s worst droughts in recent history, and still I’ve noticed people watering their front lawns to keep them as green as Astroturf. Old habits die hard.

save water save the earthFresh water. It’s one of those things that we privileged Americans take for granted. Fresh water to drink. Fresh water for showers and car washing and dog washing. Fresh water to keep the lawns green. Fresh water to waste. And waste it we do. From hosing down our walkways to ignoring our leaky pipes, we are great at finding ways to pretend that fresh water is not a precious resource. Unluckily, our great state is exploring a few desperate options to get us through this dry spell, such as the Toilet to Tap program. Yes, this is exactly as it sounds – wastewater that is treated so that it can be reused. (Time to buy stock in bottled water, folks). But luckily, our great state is also doing a few things right, like making it a crime to be caught wasting water. But still, not everyone grasps the importance.

Reduce your UseAs it’s nearly Earth Day, and also because I love California and would prefer to not see it turn into a total desert, I will share a few tips that everyone – not only Californians – can follow to help conserve the one thing that no human can live without – fresh water.

  • Water your garden early in the morning, or in the evening after the weather has cooled.
  • Use a broom to clean your driveway or walkway instead of the hose.
  • Wash only full loads of laundry. Use the lightest wash cycle for lightly soiled clothes. Consider replacing your old, inefficient washer with a new, water-saving machine.
  • Wash only full loads in the dishwasher.
  • The toilet – remember the old motto, Californians? “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”
  • Repair leaky faucets, pipes, and toilets. Those tiny drips may not seem like much, but you’d be surprised by how quickly they add up!
  • Cut your showers. Many medical experts agree that showering every other day is ideal. In fact, showering daily can actually be harmful to the skin. Can’t deal with the lighter shower schedule? Try cutting back your shower length to 5 minutes or less.
  • You’ve heard it a million times – don’t let the water run while brushing your teeth. Or shaving. You can even turn it off while scrubbing your hands, then turn it on again to rinse.
  • Try rinsing your fresh produce in a bowl, then reusing that water to water the plants.

Remember: Save water – it will save you later.

   Water is life

It’s All in the Blood (aka: Reverse the Aging Process)

vampires drinking blood of youthSo it turns out that vampires may have something with the whole “drink blood, live forever” thing. No, seriously. It’s kind of old news now, but around a year ago, scientists at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute made one of the freakiest discoveries ever – that the blood of the young may very well hold the key to reversing the aging process.

Wait! Stop! Step away from the babies. It’s not enough to drink the blood of children. Besides, that’s just…gross. The only way you can truly benefit from the youth-granting benefits of the GDF11 protein is through blood transfusions. I know. Needles. *Shudders.*

It is inevitable that each one of us (if we’re lucky) will one day suffer the symptoms of the fatal disease we call Old Age. It’s like a devastating worldwide plague for which there is no cure. Some people, through fault of unlucky genes or poor lifestyle choices, fall victim to it sooner than average; while others somehow defy gravity for much longer.fountain of youth Family Guy silly

Me? I plan to stay young till the very end. No, not from stealing my children’s blood. I’m not that desperate…yet. However, as luck has it, I come from a long line of people who don’t seem to age quickly and live to be close to 100. That, plus I love candy. Maybe that’s awful for my teeth, but there’s something about snacking on jellybeans and sugar sticks that makes me feel young and carefree.

But hey, even if you don’t care for candy and come from a lineage that’s…different, there are a few things you can do to hold back the inevitable sands of time which threaten to smother us all:

  1. Fall in love with vegetables. Candy may be dandy, but vegetables are the true elixir of life. The vitamins and antioxidants and phytochemicals not only work to protect the body from cancer and other illnesses, but they help you to look and feel your best, which are two of the biggest ways to stay young.
  2. Move your body. Put down the cell phones. Turn off the screens. There are so many ways to exercise, that unless you suffer from some sort of chronic condition other than aging, you have no excuses for not exercising regularly. Walk fast, run, skate, play a sport, take the stairs on purpose, park in the back of the behemoth Walmart parking lot. Just move it.  exercise_stay_healthy
  3. Use your brain. Sadly, too few people do this. It is so much more convenient to just parrot everyone else’s words and watch reality television shows. But – oh! The amazing things we can do if we just put our minds to it. Play chess, play Scrabble (against me, if you dare), read some challenging literature, take a class, learn a new language. Studies show that regularly exercising our brains really can work to protect us against some of the diseases of aging, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. Think about it.
  4. Stop smoking, drink less. Haven’t you heard this advice a million times already? If not, well, memory loss is one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s.
  5. Say yes to Omega-3 and no to saturated fats.
  6. I am a huge proponent of sleep. At least 7-8 hours per night for grownups, and more for kids. Not just sleep, but good sleep. Try shifting your routine to wind down an hour before getting shut-eye. Read a book, meditate, listen to calming music, enjoy a glass of wine, have sex if that’s your thing. Do whatever helps you to have a peaceful, restorative sleep.
  7. Be connected. Having close relationships with friends or family is correlated not only with longer life, but happier life, too.

 

Hmm…I still fall pretty short on that last one. Maybe that means I won’t live as long as my ancestors. On the other hand, I do have three children…

forever young infinity

Kalliope, Where Are You? (aka: How to Treat Writer’s Block)

question marksSYMPTOMS: The words won’t come. The clock ticks, the shadows shrink and stretch again, and somewhere, a spider scuttles across the ceiling. But still, the words won’t come. I lift my fingers to the keyboard, pause, then let them drop to my lap. A scream builds inside my chest. Words, they are only words – type something, type anything! Dmkvnekfnienomknjsaono12i34cn8. UGH! In frustration, I throw back my head and cry out to the muses, Kalliope, where are you?!?

DIAGNOSIS:  Writer’s Block

Snoopy Guide to Writing Life

TREATMENT:

  1. Take slow, deep, calming breaths. Resist the urge to throw your laptop across the room. This is counterproductive.
  1. Go for a run. Ride a bike. Exercise gets the blood flowing, possibly even to your empty brain.
  1. Write something else. Sometimes, taking a break from the novel to write something from a different genre may stimulate creativity and give you a fresh sense of perspective. Try a poem, a persuasive essay, or a shallow, humorous blog post.
  1. Step away from the computer screen and get out into the world. Observe and talk to people. Yes, real, live people. Other people can be interesting and inspiring. Thought: In order to create art that imitates life, one must actually live and observe life.
  1. Get some sleep. Yes, we writers tend to think that the muse only comes to whisper in our ears during the wee hours of the night. But the truth is, inspiration can come at any time, and we are better prepared to receive it when well-rested.
  1. Read books. Most good writers were inspired by reading the works of other good writers. Read for pleasure. Read to learn new techniques. Read something outside of your genre comfort zone. Fill your brain with great words, and maybe then, your own words will begin to flow.
  1. Revel in the Shitty First Draft. Your first draft does not need to be perfect. I repeat – your first draft does not need to be perfect. Aim for perfection, and you will go nowhere fast. So what if your character is unlikeable? So what if the dialogue is crap? So what if you have written 5,000 worthless words that no one would want to read? This is a first draft, for goodness’ sake! Write the whole novel, even if it sucks. It is during the editing process that your real story will arise.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life 

wrong muse

Never Run in High Heels (aka: Practical Advice from Horror Films)

My first experience with horror films came at the age of four, when one of my teenage sisters took me to the movie theater to see Silent Scream. Shortly after, thanks to the growing availability of VCRs, I also added to my horror film repertoire such classic gems as The Shining, The Omen, The Amityville Horror, and The Exorcist. While other kids my age were quoting funny lines from The Muppets,  I was busy quoting Tangina from Poltergeist (“Come children, into the li-i-ight! There is peace and serenity in the li-i-ight!).

Poltergeist

Nothing good on this television.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. No wonder I am so twisted/dark/macabre/bizarre. This is probably true. Really, young kids have no business watching Michael Meyers strangle some woman to death with a telephone cord.

"Get off the phone, stupid. Can't you see that isn't your boyfriend? Lift up the sheet!" ~ Me, screaming at television screen

But, warped mind aside, I did learn some valuable and practical lessons from horror films:

  1. Running with high heels is a bad idea. Not only can you trip and break your ankle, but d-uh, the killer will catch you every time. Better to slip off the heels and use them as a weapon.
  2. If you’re a teenager, don’t have sex. Just don’t do it. In fact, adults, too. Sex is a huge common factor in getting slain by an axe-murderer.
  3. If you live on Elm Street, definitely stock up on Red Bull. And coffee. Better yet, just move to a different neighborhood.
  4. The kid with the dark hair and pale eyes is always evil.
  5. If your toy clown goes missing, just let it be. Don’t bother searching for it. Especially not under the bed. Never look under the bed.
  6. Better yet, don’t have a toy clown. They are always evil, too.
  7. If your house tells you to “Get out!” Then get out. Just do it.
  8. Close your curtains at night or that tree outside will come to life and eat you.
  9. Never buy your Halloween costume from Silver Shamrock.
  10. If you begin to hear the sound, “Ch-ch-ch Ah-ah-ah-ah!”  then run. Run fast. Better yet, get in your car and drive far, far away. (But first, check the back seat to make sure the killer is not hiding there).
Do not be fooled by his sweet face. This kid is the Antichrist with the tattoo to prove it.

Do not be fooled by his sweet face. This kid is the Antichrist with the tattoo to prove it.

You see? Horror movies are not all bad. If you pay attention, you just may learn some tips that can help you to live a long and fruitful life.

Links to Make You Shiver:

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/guides/best-horror-movies/

http://www.boston.com/ae/movies/gallery/top_50_scary_movies/

http://www.vulture.com/2013/10/horror-movies-on-netflix-streaming-good-bad-weird.html

Weight Loss is a Piece of (Low-Calorie) Cake. Plus Exercise.

Healthy weight lossWeight loss is not that hard. Okay, well, if you already have the body of an almost-anorexic fashion model, and you are trying to lose ten more pounds, that is probably hard. But most Americans – especially we women, do not have the bodies of fashion models. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of overweight adults in this country (determined by a Body Mass Index, or BMI of 25 or greater) is 69.2%, and the percentage of those considered obese (A BMI of 30 or greater) is 35.9%.

We have so many excuses for our unhealthy weight. I have big bones. I inherited a slow metabolism. Many people have simply given up on weight loss and chosen to embrace their excess weight. Now, I am not saying that this is a bad thing. If a person is in good health, does not suffer from weight-related health issues, and has a positive self-image, then that is a wonderful thing and should be commended. But for those who are unhappy with their figures, who complain about problems with their aching joints or bad backs, or who have weight-related health concerns, then here is my question: why haven’t you lost the weight?

I come from a family with many overweight and obese people (not very unusual for Black American families). And I, at one time, was also quite overweight. At my highest non-pregnant weight, my BMI was 29.9 – teetering dangerously on the edge of obesity. I, too, had excuses. Children. Lack of time for the gym. Genes. I refused to go jogging, because I was certain that my top-heavy body was not built for it. But it was not until I decided that it was important enough that I really began to shed pounds. And you know what? It really was not that hard to do. Sure, it took discipline, but can you name one good accomplishment in life that does not take discipline? Eventually, after two years of lifestyle changes, I lost 70 pounds. And now, around four years after I began the journey, I have still managed to keep my weight in a healthy, normal BMI range. I am no super hero. I do not have an eating disorder. I just try my best to make regular healthy decisions about food and exercise. Almost anyone can do it successfully, and here’s how:

  1. KNOW YOUR CALORIES

Calories count. Eat more calories than you burn off, and you will gain weight. Eat fewer than you burn off, and you will lose weight. It is really that simple. It does not matter if those calories come from carbs or protein. Eat whatever the hell makes your taste buds happy and leaves you healthy and satisfied. But make it a point to know how many calories are in each food that you eat. Stuffed yourself with a huge, 700-calorie breakfast? Balance it with a lower calorie lunch and dinner. My goal is to keep my daily caloric intake somewhere between 1,200 to 1,500. Most days I do just fine. Every now and then, I go crazy and eat a dozen homemade cookies. And that’s okay.

My favorite source for calorie tracking? http://caloriecount.about.com/ It is free, easy to use, and has a great app for mobile calorie counting.

healthy weight success

  1. MOVE YOUR BODY

It is not all about the diet sodas and low-cal salad dressing. It is not all about the smaller serving sizes. Unless you plan to starve yourself, it is pretty much impossible to maintain a healthy body weight without exercise. Oh, I know, I know. Your knees hurt. Your back hurts. You’re not built for running. You have cholinergic urticaria. Oh wait – these were my excuses, remember? Unless you are a paraplegic, you can exercise. Don’t like running? Then walk for an hour every day. Swim. Do yoga. Try a Zumba class. Ride your bike to the store. Play a sport in an adult league. Jump rope. It really doesn’t matter, as long as you do it regularly. Aim for no less than 3 times per week. And do not “reward” your hard work with treats.

  1. MEET YOUR OTHER NEEDS

Many people tend to overeat or skip exercise due to some other need not being met. Give your body and spirit what it needs to maintain balance. Get enough sleep. Find healthy outlets to help you manage your stress. Stay busy with work, playing with your kids, cleaning house, or volunteering in your community. When your other physical and emotional needs are met, then you may find yourself naturally eating less food and moving your body more.

  1. MAKE IT SOCIAL

I realize that not everyone in the world lives in social isolation like me. Lots of people have more success meeting their personal goals with the encouragement of a partner or group. If that is you, then give it a try. Sign up for a local Weight Watchers group. Join a group aerobics class. Go walking or jogging with a partner. Chime in on a weight-loss forum. Many people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off have done it with the support and motivation of like-minded peers.

That’s it. Four tips. Four easy steps to consider when you are finally ready to make the change to a healthier way of living. Notice – I did not say “go on a diet.” A diet is temporary. But true healthy weight management is the result of permanent changes to your lifestyle that result in a healthier (and smaller) you.

Losing pounds