Giving Up is Easy (aka: Why I don’t Lent)

Christians around the world have observed Lent, aka “The Great Fast” pretty much since Jesus ascended into the clouds. The idea is fairly simple: for the 46 days leading up to Easter Sunday, Christians choose to fast. The way that looks may differ, depending on one’s flavor of Christianity. For example, many Catholics choose not to eat meat on Fridays during the Lenten period. Orthodox Catholics take this to a whole new level, abstaining from all meat, oils, even eggs and dairy for every day leading up to Easter (They also celebrate a different Easter, but that’s another story). Evangelical Christians as a whole do not traditionally observe Lent in any organized way. However, many choose to “fast” from something else they consider important, such as alcohol, social media, or sex.


Regardless of how the fast is observed, the underlying principles are the same. Lent is a time to make oneself uncomfortable, just as Jesus was uncomfortable roaming about in the desert for 40 days with nothing to eat. And in our discomfort, we can learn to refocus our energy on God, to face our demons of complacence and gluttony, and to forgive the offenses of those who have sinned against us. It is not only just an exercise to see if we’re strong enough to give up something we hold dear; it is also a chance to hit “Reset,” to renew our spirits and get back on the right track.

I know that some of you readers may have already dived into your 40-Day fast with enthusiasm, and are already tweeting or blogging about your great journey through the desert after giving up coffee, chocolate, or texting. As for me? Well, I don’t plan to give up anything.

Yes, you read that correctly. I have zero plans to fast. (I know, I know. Sinner! )


Here’s the deal. I have learned that I am a highly adaptable human being. Give up things that I once held dear? Break old habits? Abstain? No problem! I once spent more than a year abstaining from most food. It was oddly easy, and for the first (and last) time in my adult life, I got to unlock the achievement level of Skinny. These days, I eat food, but I’m abstaining from simplex carbs and real sugar, so that I don’t accidentally fall into the pit of Diabetes. I am also happy to eat mostly plant-based meals, so giving up meat is not a struggle, either.

Sex? Ha! I will win an abstinence from all forms of sex contest Every. Single. Time. Grandmaster level of sexual abstinence. Give up social media? Been there, done that. I even gave up the social without the media. Alcohol? Who needs it? Caffeine? I’ve been a decaf coffee and tea drinker for months now and don’t miss a thing.


I guess if I were going to really give up something I am attached to, then it would be giving up computers or reading. But these both have too many loopholes, like cell phones (technically not computers) and audiobooks. Also, giving up either would jeopardize my career goals, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what the church has in mind.

Anyway, fasting doesn’t work so well for the highly adaptable. Giving up is far too easy to do when you refuse to become attached to necessities or vices. Don’t hold on too tight, and it’s easy to let go when the time comes. Even during Lent. The harder thing, for me anyway, is learning NOT to quit. Learning not to shrug my shoulders and walk away from everything and everyone. Learning that maybe, some things in life are worth holding onto.


Miss Know-It-All

I’m almost certain that the first word I ever spoke was “Actually.”

Actually, you can’t catch a cold from cold weather.

Actually, there is no solid evidence linking coffee consumption to stunted growth.

Actually, it’s only a myth that sitting close to the television will damage your eyesight.

According to my parents, I was actually a frustrating kid to raise.


"According to my research, school buses can't transform into rocket ships." (Shows what you know, Dorothy Ann)

“According to my research, school buses can’t transform into rocket ships.” (Shows what you know, Dorothy Ann)

I was a total Miss Know-It-All. Sometimes, I still am. I have learned to bite my tongue when other people make grammar mistakes or express opinions based on faulty science or understanding. Mostly. But sometimes, the urge to correct wells up like a volcano, until I can’t help but blurt out that dreaded word, “Actually…”

It’s a fault that even annoys me. I mean, it’s obvious that I don’t know everything. I’m not a computer, though I live most of my life glued to one (like one of those scary teens in the book Feed, by M.T. Anderson). However, make one comment about the right/wrong or black/white way to think or do something, and my inner Siri is unleashed, spitting out alternate theories and empirical scientific evidence at 10Gb/s.

Little Miss Brainy

At times, being Miss Know-It-All comes in handy. Those Hermione Granger tendencies can really help me to do well in school or at work, especially when actual analytical thinking is required. It can also be useful having an entire dictionary/thesaurus built in to my brain when writing stories, playing Scrabble, or answering questions.

As my 11yo said the other day, “Why Google anything when we can just ask Mom?”

But it can also be a hindrance, especially in social situations. Who wants to engage in conversation with someone who refutes nearly everything, even if only to play Devil’s Advocate? According to my research, pretty much no one. Except perhaps, for other Know-It-Alls, who adore a good intellectual debate.

Lisa Simpson Know-it-All

Not long ago, someone made a comment that has swirled around in my brain ever since. “So in order to have a conversation with you, a person would pretty much have to have a PhD.” Oops. It would appear that my Smartypants ways can be pretty off-putting to other people. So I am learning – learning when to speak and when to listen. Learning when to counter someone’s faulty opinions and when to keep my thoughts to myself. Learning how to keep the volcano from erupting, no matter how much hot magma flows beneath.

After all, it may appear as though the Miss Know-It-Alls of the world really do know it all. But there is one thing we enjoy doing way more than showing off how smart we are — learning. Yes, actually.

annoying know it all

Actually, we know this, too.

How (Not) to Raise a Nazi (aka: The Impact of Parenting Styles)

nazi-soldiers“What was the Holocaust?”

It all started with a simple     question posed by my older teen. I was shocked that he did not already know. Everyone should learn about horrors of history such as the Holocaust, in order that we may learn from the mistakes of others and prevent history from repeating itself. So I spent the next twenty minutes with my teens, engaged in discussion about the Holocaust. Which led to the next question: Why would the Nazi soldiers just kill innocent people?

Answer? They were just following orders. My kids were astonished. How is it possible that a human being would commit such atrocities to an innocent person, simply because someone told them to obey? Where was their personal integrity? Where was their sense of conscience?

Like most great discussions with my kids, their questions led me to introduce them to one of my favorite topics: The Long-Term Effects of Parenting Styles. (Yes, I probably broke some archaic unspoken rule by discussing parenting with the very children whom I parent. But what can I say? I’m a bit of a rebel. Blame it on my authoritarian upbringing).

Professionals usually refer to three common parenting styles, which can be characterized as follows:


High parental control and restrictiveness. Verbal hostility, fear techniques, punitive discipline strategies (spankings, threats, etc.). Most common among households with low SES and lower education levels of parent. “Obey me because I said so and know what’s best.”

strict parents spanking punishment

Punitive discipline techniques, forced coercion, and fear tactics are earmarks of authoritarian child-rearing.


High warmth and involvement, clear communication of expectations, reasoning, democratic participation, positive and proactive discipline strategies. Most common among middle class and affluent households and higher education levels of parent.

“You may choose what to do, but understand that your choices have natural consequences.”

Authoritative parents teaching


Lax or inconsistent discipline, Overindulgence or indifference, a general ignorance of child misbehavior, “Laissez-faire,” lack of self-confidence about parenting. “Children will eventually find their own way.”

Difficult choice

“Hey mom! You’re the authoritative type of parent,” said my 10yo, grinning. My other kids immediately agreed, to my great pleasure. You see, there are many longitudinal studies done on the impact of the three different parenting types, and an authoritative parenting style is the hands-down winner. The research consistently shows that children raised in authoritarian or permissive families have the worst long-term outcomes – behavior problems, aggression, depression and anxiety, obesity, poor academic performance, lower sense of personal responsibility, and so on.

“So what type of parenting style do you suppose may result in the type of person who would blindly obey the orders of their authority figure without protest or refusal?” I asked my kids, cycling the topic back around the horrors of the Holocaust.

They got the connection right away. “So basically,” said my oldest teen, “authoritarian parents are raising potential Nazis.”

Perhaps so, I responded. Perhaps it is that authoritarian parents do so without really thinking through the natural consequences of their parenting choices. Without proper education, so many people are like sheep, blindly following the masses, or in the footsteps of their own parents, regardless of whether their behavior is positive or negative. And so, sadly, history repeats itself.

authoriatarian parent Homer

MY CREDS: I hold a B.A. degree in Child Development (which included many hours of research and seminars on parenting). I am a former teacher of young children and current parent to three happy, well-adjusted, thoughtful kids/teens (who apparently still think I’m a great mom, so that’s a plus, too).


Understanding the Links Between Socioeconomic Status and Parenting Behavior

The influence of authoritative parenting style on adolescents’ academic achievement

Parenting styles and overweight status in first grade

Impact of Behavioral Inhibition and Parenting Style on Internalizing and Externalizing Problems from Early Childhood through Adolescence

Pay Attention! (aka: Multitasking is Way Overrated)

PrintOkay. Judging by current statistics, I will only be able to keep your attention for around 8 seconds. (Or 5 minutes, depending on which link you click). Either way, current research indicates a decrease in the average adult attention span. The latest scapegoat? The Internet.

If there’s one thing humans love to do, it’s rewire our brains. And in fact, it appears that our constant web surfing has managed to do just that. It’s funny, isn’t it? We all love to boast about how we are such skilled Multitaskers. We can do half a dozen things at once! We can text a friend on our cell phones while simultaneously playing a game on our iPads, watching a streaming episode of Gray’s Anatomy on the television, and listening to our kids talk about school, all while paying attention to dinner cooking in the kitchen. We are Superhumans.

Or are we?

The sad truth is this – multi-tasking does not mean that we are performing those tasks better. In fact, the reverse is true. In the article Why the Modern World is Bad for Your Brain, neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explains why we have the concept of multi-tasking all wrong. He quotes Earl Miller, an MIT neuroscientist and expert on divided attention, who says that human brains are: “not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”

In other words, multitasking makes us stupider.   multitasking myth

Here’s the thing: the very word multitasking was coined by the IT industry. It was meant to describe the way computer processors can switch very rapidly from one task to a next. Human brains, however, were simply not designed to do so. At least, not without a cost. In his article, You Say Multitasking Like It’s a Good Thing, computer engineering professor Charles J. Abaté explains, “As with a microprocessor, the interruption of one task requires us to remember where we stopped, so that when we return to this task we can resume the activity. The same is true, of course, for the alternate task(s). Now, whereas microprocessors are quite efficient at storing and retrieving these interruption points, brains are decidedly not.”

The bottom line here is that there is very little benefit to multitasking. While we may think that attempting to manage several tasks at once is making us more productive, the research indicates that what we are actually doing is juggling three separate tasks and executing them poorly. Want to become a more effective learner? Turn off the television. Want to perform better at your job? Stop checking your email every few minutes. Having trouble paying attention? Turn off your cell phone.

Too Many Distractions

Just as we are capable of rewiring our brains for the worse, we are also capable of rewiring our brains for the better. By living in the moment and focusing our attention on the single task at hand, we can rise to our potential.

How to Kick a Ball (aka: Such a Newb)

  Newbie noun, often attributive \ˈnü-bē, ˈnyü-\

: a person who has recently started a particular activity

: newcomer; especially: a newcomer to cyberspace (Merriam-Webster)


(For starters, let’s get one thing straight – a newb is not the same as a n00b. A newb is a novice who is just trying to figure out how to do something new. A n00b (or noob) is an airhead who does stupid things, doesn’t want to improve and is pretty much hopeless. I am writing about being a newb — not a n00b. Got it?) hello I am clueless

I hate being a newb. It is probably deep-wired in my personality, but I cannot stand being a clueless beginner. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like to learn. I love to learn. I just don’t like being in that insecure, I-Don’t-Know-What-the-Hell-I’m-Doing phase for very long. Call me competitive. Call me a perfectionist. Call me whatever you like (just not a n00b). But if it were up to me, then I would skip lesson A of everything in life and fast-forward to the advanced level. Some of us were made to play hard ball, not tee-ball.

Unfortunately, we all have moments throughout our lives in which we have to suffer through the newb stage. Sometimes we get through that beginning stage quickly, and are soon happily coasting along without the training wheels. Other times, we feel as though we’ll never master the skills we need to advance out of Kindergarten. At the moment, I am a newb in far too many ways for my comfort.

Newb Techie: Such a newb, that I’m not even sure what to call myself when people ask. I’m a computer science student. I am an intern who works with computers (database and tech support stuff) in a cubicle jungle. I love what I’m learning, but I’m still at the bottom of the totem pole (or perhaps the lowest level of the OSI model?).

Newbie Single Person: Do you know that before a year ago, I was never a single adult? It’s true. I met my ex husband when I had just turned 19 years old. We were married soon after I turned 21. I have spent my entire adult life as a (very unhappily) married person. Now, I am learning how to be a happily single person, which is fun and liberating and cool in many ways, but scary in others (aka — the dating thing). It’s kind of like learning to be an adult all over again. I do not, however, feel like a newb as a single mom. That part’s pretty easy, as most of the parenting fell to me back when I was still married.


No, I cannot bend it like Beckham. I’m still learning how to kick the ball well.

Newbie Jock: Heehee…okay, maybe not a jock. But I have been working on getting in good physical shape and honing my ahtletic skills for the past several years. The problem is, I am not very good at consistency, and my stamina is lousy. Maybe that is why people hire personal trainers? While that’s out of the question, I have been trying something new this summer — a series of outdoor soccer skills workshops for women. It has been so much fun, and I have learned so many great things that I did not know before, like how to kick a ball with your laces. (Ohhh, so that’s how people get the ball to travel more than a few yards!). Next, I’m really hoping to learn how to do things like step-overs and scissors (which I have done by accident during games, but still don’t know how I did it). I know, I know — what a newb!

Take Chances make mistakes get messy As much as I detest being a newb, I know that everyone has to begin somewhere. You can’t just jump into a swimming pool without a few lessons, or all you’ll do is sink. It’s also not a good idea to avoid trying new activities simply because you don’t care for the newbie stage. To quote Ms. Frizzle (because Ms. Frizzle was awesome): Take chances! Get messy! Make mistakes! Sometimes, it is okay to be a newb (not a n00b). The newbie stage is like stepping onto the Golden Gate Bridge from the Sausalito side. It’s weird, and scary, and you’re up so high that you feel like you’ll fall. But you have to keep moving forward if you ever want to reach San Francisco. (Okay, sorry — that was such a newb analogy 🙂 )

Filling in the Gaps (aka Afterschooling My Kids)

A conversation in the car on the way to school yesterday with my kids, ages 9, 12, and 14.

Me: Don’t you guys know why the Confederate states seceded from the Union?

My kids: They didn’t like it? Because the Union sucked? Who were the Confederate states?

Me (groaning): Do you guys even know what the Confederate states were? Can you name any of them?

My kids: New Hampshire! California! New York! Canada! Something that starts with a V!

Me: Look, they were all in the South. Name some states in the South.

My kids: Alabama? Arizona? New Hampshire?


Naturally, by then I felt like banging my head against the steering wheel. And screaming. Or maybe both. Because  clearly, my kids – especially my older two, should know how to answer such basic questions about American history. But clearly, there are some tremendous gaps in their education.

US History

To truly understand my frustration in moments like these, you must know that I used to be a homeschooling mom. Not for long – I homeschooled my oldest in Kindergarten, and my second oldest in 1st grade. It was so important to me that my children receive a thorough, well-rounded education, and I once felt that homeschooling was the best way to provide that. I gave it up when they were accepted into excellent public schools, but in order to fill in the gaps, I continued to afterschool them for years to come.

Yes, Afterschooling. Ever heard of it? It’s pretty much like Mom homework on top of school homework. Sometimes it means supporting the subjects they are learning in school with extra enrichment at home. Sometimes it means studying something together which is not being taught at school (like the history of the Civil War, or geography, for example). Sometimes afterschooling means quick, ten-minute discussions in the car about social issues or dystopian literature. Sometimes it means a family project, like building something together, or exploring recipes or music from other cultures. And sometimes it is more formal. During school vacations, for example, I require that my kids spend an hour being engaged in something academic in order to earn television or video game privileges. They can do work from a workbook, or study something new on Khan Academy, or practice coding on websites like Scratch or


I realize that there are many critics out there who may see Afterschooling as excessive or silly, especially since my kids already attend great schools. Perhaps I should just relax and let my kids be kids, without having to spend so much time studying. But I see it differently. I want to raise my kids to be thinkers and lifelong learners, with a curiosity about the world. And, well, call me silly, but I also would like very much for them to know that New Hampshire is not a southern state, and that Canada is a completely different country, you know?

Where in the world

Where in the world is Canada?

And so, instead of banging my head against the steering wheel, I took a deep breath and gave my kids a hurried, ten-minute lesson in American history before dropping them off at school. And probably, after school today, we’ll take a look at a map and see exactly where the southern states are located. And maybe, just maybe, my kids will learn something new and useful – like the name of that mysterious state which begins with a V. (Now banging my head against the keyboard).