Five-Minute Friday: Limit

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog, linked at the bottom of the page. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice.”

The Boston Globe featured this quote in its “Reflection for the day” during my time in college. My father would send cards stuffed with newspaper clippings (I remember one about a skinny-dipping grandmother he thought would amuse me), random comics, these Boston Globe sayings, and a $20 bill. This particular saying, though, has been one of my go-to mantras because its truth applies to so many areas.

Recently, I attended a conference on Professional Learning Communities, and one of the keynote speakers talked about educational research and why some distrust it. One of the many reasons is that research is limited. During my doctoral coursework at Boston College, professors repeatedly drove home the notion that all research is perspectival. What we “find” is limited to the research question we asked in the first place, and the questions we chose to ask are influenced by our knowledge base (or that of our funding source).

The keynote speaker also said we had to be wary of any researcher who has not changed his or her mind. He said the mark of a true scholar is one who can say what researcher Richard Elmore and others said in a recent book: “I used to think…and now I think…” (Side note: I believe this ability to go back to the research with new knowledge and hindsight and revise one’s thinking also makes for strong leaders. I have never understood criticizing politicians for changing their stance on a topic based on time and new knowledge.)

Hearing this speaker made me wonder what fundamental “truths” I have changed my mind about based on my limitations and what I once failed to notice but now see quite clearly. Here is a list of some at random, indicative of a freewite:

I used to think that academic achievement reflected one’s intellectual abilities, and now I think it reflects one’s ability to “do school.”

I used to think that being busy was a badge of honor and a sign of productivity, and now I think that if you are too busy to relax and enjoy leisure activities, you are not as productive as you could be.

I used to think that meritocracy explained how people got ahead, and now I think meritocracy explains how people are blind to their privileges.

I used to think that if you are with the right person, marriage is easy, and now I think that all good relationships are the reflection of hard work.

I used to think seafood was disgusting, and now I think perfectly cooked salmon is divine.

I used to think that vulnerability was a sign of weakness, and now I think it is the greatest sign of strength.

Time’s up, readers, but I am very curious about what you have changed your mind about lately. Please comment if you’re willing to share!

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My Year in Books

In 2012, I set a goal of reading 12 books (and completing 12 knitting projects). I exceeded in the knitting and fell a few short in the reading, but I set a precedent with the “12 in ‘12” idea. I have set goals each year since to read the same number of books as the year, and I have met the goal for the last 3 years.

Going into this year, I recognized that I read mostly non-fiction and mostly male authors, not consciously, but by chance. I wanted to see what would happen if I purposely chose (more) fiction and solely female authors. I am happy I did. Here’s my 2015 recap.

  1. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Okay, so I started the year reading fiction, but by a male author. Blame it on the library and the long wait list I was on for this one. It was billed as a book you’d love if you enjoy Sheldon’s character on The Big Bang Theory, and it delivered. It was a fun, feel-good story centering on a quirky character who sure seems like he is on the autism spectrum, but no diagnosis is ever mentioned.

Take-away: No matter how different we are, we can find love and happiness.

READ (if you enjoy The Big Bang Theory)

  1. Accidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers

A work of fiction with a female author – now we’re talking! It’s set in Boston, which I enjoyed, but it was not the gripping book I was hoping for. I enjoy books with multiple narrators/perspectives, but I can’t say this one did that successfully.

Take-away: Marriage is hard, and parenting is harder.

SKIP

  1. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

As is true for most sequels, this book was not as good as the first. It did leave me thinking that if someone makes a movie from these books, I will see it.

Take-away: No matter how different we are, we can find love and happiness.

SKIP (Read the first book instead)

  1. I Thought It Was Just Me by Brene Brown

My therapist casually recommended I watch Brene’s TedTalk, and I was hooked. I cannot get enough of what Brene Brown says, and I figured reading her books in chronological order was the way to go. The researcher in me loves how she presents her work.

Take-away: Silence breeds shame, and living in shame breeds an unnecessarily lonely, difficult life.

MUST READ

  1. Small Victories by Anne Lamott

If Anne Lamott started a second career as a preacher, I would go to that parish everyday. If you think the world is going to hell in a hand basket, her words act as a salve that makes it all better. This book is the third in a series of three short books, but you do not need to read them in order.

Take-away: I’m okay, you’re okay, but George Bush is not.

MUST READ (if you aren’t opposed to recovering alcoholics, religious undertones, and liberal viewpoints/Republican-bashing)

  1. Dietland by Sarai Walker

I thought I would love this because Entertainment Weekly likened it to Amy Schumer’s comedy. It does have feminist social commentary, and I could see the comparisons to Schumer once I was in the thick of it, but in the end, Schumer is in a category all her own and Walker is not even close.

Take-away: Love yourself, whatever your size.

SKIP

  1. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

When Charlotte mentioned she was writing about a famous mother/daughter Mary combo, I knew the duo to which she was referring, and I could not wait for her to finish. It took over 5 years, but it was worth the wait. It is a dual biography that reads like a novel. Even if you have no idea who these ladies are, you will appreciate Charlotte’s insights.

There are so many take-aways that I won’t do the book justice, but here is one: The mother/daughter bond is an unbreakable one in so many ways.

MUST READ (Especially if you enjoy Frankenstein and/or A Vindication of the Rights of Woman)

  1. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Game-changer. Her philosophy and method will truly change your life for the better if you let it. This is a quick, easy read packed with practical advice.

Take-away: Let go of anything that no longer serves you…starting with your closet.

MUST READ

  1. Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

It’s a fun read, but not a FUNNY read. There are meaty, feminist views if you choose to notice them. The book made me want to watch Parks and Recreation, a series I passed on when it was on the air. (I am on season 3 now and have been pleasantly surprised.)

Take-away: Poehler is one smart, funny, classy lady.

READ (and it’s probably a must-read if you like Poehler, Saturday Night Live, and/or Tina Fey)

  1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Yes, it was a page-turner. No, I did not like it. None of the characters are likeable. At all. And what is with the ending? It was disturbing, and not in a good, think-about-your-life way. Ugh.

Take-away: Things aren’t always what they seem. (I struggled on this one – this is the best I can do.)

SKIP

  1. The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

I had to break away from female authors to get in this book selected by a new book club I joined. I would put it in the same category as The Rosie Project with its quirky characters and feel-good message. I did not know this until after I read it, but Matthew Quick is the same author of Silver Linings Playbook. I am adding him to my list of authors whose body of work I should read. (Jonathan Tropper is another member of this short list.)

Take-away: No matter how different we are, we can find love and happiness.

MUST READ (Especially if you liked The Rosie Project or Silver Linings Playbook)

  1. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and The Execution of Noa P. Singleton all have rather deplorable female characters. In this one, Noa is on death row for first degree murder. There was a twist, but in the end, it was a book of mainly unlikeable characters whose message was not quite clear.

Take-away: I got nothing…maybe “People are gross”?

SKIP

  1. Off the Sidelines by Kirsten Gillibrand

When you have a name like “Kirstin,” you are drawn to other Kirstins/Kirstens/Kierstins, etc. Or maybe it’s just me. I was intrigued with Senator Gillibrand when I heard her name on a tv interview. That she is a senator who does her job while raising a young family is a plus.

Take-away: Everyone should use her voice to shape our world.

READ (you need not be into politics)

  1. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

I love the idea behind this book – that a bookseller is a literary apothecary, administering books like medicine. It is a true book lover’s book.

Take-away: Books heal, as do the misfit characters we incorporate into our chosen family along the way.

READ (and it’s a MUST READ if you are a book lover)

  1. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

This is Brene’s second book, and there is an e-course associated with it that my husband bought me, and I finally took it on this year. For a recovering perfectionist like me, this book lays it all out.

Take-away: The struggle for perfection (which is unattainable) robs us of joy and true connection.

MUST READ (Especially if you are a Brene Brown fan)

  1. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, was laugh-out-loud funny (and that says a lot coming from me). This one is just as funny, but it takes on more serious topics, as Lawson doesn’t mince words about depression and anxiety.

Take-away: Depression lies; life is good.

MUST READ (Especially if you live with, worth with, and/or love someone with mental illness)

  1. Quiet by Susan Cain

Reading this after Lawson’s and Brown’s books made for the perfect three-fer. If you can swing it, reading them in succession is a great idea. Cain’s research and anecdotes on introverts (and even what that word actually means) is eye-opening.

Take-away: Preferring quiet to noise or working alone to working in a group is not only okay, but necessary for societal (and relationship) balance.

MUST READ (So many implications for school, work, relationships, parenting, etc.)

  1. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

I read this with no prior knowledge about the book, so I was not expecting the perspective shift that occurs when we move from “Fates” to “Furies.” I enjoyed the shift, but it was not enough to make me recommend the book.

Take-away: Things aren’t always what they seem.

SKIP

  1. Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes

I picked this one up because Gretchen Rubin mentioned it (her book will be my first for 2016), and it sounded interesting. As one fascinated with food and health, I thought I ought to read more on the subject. I was NOT expecting a book that would change my mind, and that’s what I got.

Take-away: The “calories-in/calories-out” idea does not play out in research; rather, we get overweight due to insulin resistance that occurs over time.

MUST READ

*    *   *

Women Authors: 15/19 (excellent!)

Works of Fiction: 9/19 (needs improvement, but this WAS an improvement)

Themes: 1. Quirky, imperfect people succeeding in making the best of what life hands them, and 2. Iconoclastic women whose thoughts and actions transcend their time period.

Goals for 2016’s Year of Books: I need to continue to read more female authors to make up for my miseducation (through most of high school, the authors assigned were men). I need to find more meaningful fiction – books that aren’t just good in the moment, but ones that have lasting effects. Should 2016 be the year of historical fiction? Would this be a compromise?

Please give me some book recommendations!

Five-Minute Friday: Omnivore

Kate is letting us pick our own word this week, and normally I would rise to that creative challenge and throw out a word on whim, but I am tired and weary and ready for Christmas break to start, and I have no energy to think of my own. So, I googled “Random Word Generator,” clicked a few links, and I got the word “omnivore.”

How apropos.

Food consumption at my house has always been “a thing.” Let’s briefly start when I was growing up. We had multiple types of breakfast cereal – all the best sugary kinds, and no generic brands, either – and any roadtrips we took meant a packed cooler bag for the car, filled with plenty of options. I am not sure where this plentiful attitude came from, or if, many lives ago, my parents starved to death and so were using this life to make sure that never happened to them again.

Either way, what I eat, why I eat it, how much I eat of it has always been a “thing” for me. A few years ago, I cut out sugar as an experiment. Actually, I would never take on such a drastic move on my own – it was a dare. I had returned to running, training for my first half marathon, and was not seeing the improvement in my times that I wanted. My coach asked me to start recording what I ate. He was appalled. In fact, his exact words (or thereabouts) were, “You eat like a NARP. Do you want to be a NARP?”

I wasn’t sure what this meant, but it did not seem like something I should want to be, so I shook my head vigorously and said I would do whatever he told me to do to avoid being a NARP. (Turns out, that means Non-Athletic Regular Person.)

He told me to cut sugar. I laughed. I have had a bowl of ice cream every night since I was maybe 10. (Okay, so maybe I was eating like a NARP…but a life without ice cream is no life for me.) He said cutting sugar would improve my time. I told him I did not believe him. (I am SOOO COACHABLE!) He said I should try it for a month and I would see. I said I would do it to prove him wrong. (I drew the line at cutting out fruit, and my coach acquiesced on this point.)

This conversation occurred at the tail end of August. September brings hectic back to school time and both of my kids’ birthdays, so choosing to make a drastic dietary change for this month was an added challenge.

But I did it. I love a challenge. (FYI: They do make vegan ice cream, and it is actually quite tasty.)

And my coach was right. Damn him.

What I noticed rather quickly – maybe after a week – was how my “I AM HUNGRY AND I MUST EAT 5 MINUTES AGO!” feelings were gone. And, yes, my running times improved.

Because I was cutting out sugar, I started to read labels to make sure I wasn’t eating sugar inadvertently. I learned that sugar is in EVERYTHING. Bread? Sugar. Ketchup? Sugar. Milk? Sugar.

The more I read, the more sources I was pointed to for further food info. And it was depressing. I figured that to avoid sugar, it would be easier to go vegan, so I did.

But remember the prompt? Omnivore was the prompt. I’m getting to it.

When I went vegan, my daughter in particular wanted to know why I wasn’t eating milk or consuming dairy. I was fascinated and freaked by what I was learning about not only how animals were treated, but also how unhealthy the animals we can eat often are. So I shared what I was learning. Her eyes got huge. She told me that she didn’t think she would give up dairy, but she would never eat another animal again.

Fast forward a few months to after my half marathon. I did keep up my no sugar rule for the race and stuck pretty faithfully to it post-race, though I wasn’t as militant. To be honest, I thought going vegan would make me feel AWESOME.

It did not. And it’s hard to keep doing something if it’s more of a pain than a benefit. Still, I was practicing vegetarianism with relative ease.

And then came my son’s diabetes diagnosis. The hospitalization was short, but not so short we weren’t relegated to whatever was available on the bottom level of Children’s Hospital. And as those with diabetes experience know, you need to know the carb counts of food for insulin dosing.

For me, this was the hardest part of having a newly diagnosed son. It’s simple math, yes, but when it’s new to you, getting the blood sugar reading, figuring out the correction and then adding it to the carb ratio just added another element of stress to meal time, which was already kind of crazy because my daughter was still a militant vegetarian, my son and husband leaned more toward the carnivore side, and I was the omnivore in the middle. (What a GREAT memoir title! DON’T steal that…I am gonna use it someday!)

We’re now two years out from that stressful meal time scenario, and my daughter remains committed to a vegetarian lifestyle, having never eaten meat since I scared her with my tales of cows. She will not even eat a dish that meat has touched (i.e., a pizza that is half cheese and half pepperoni is definitely out!). I admire her commitment, though it means the rest of us also eat mostly vegetarian, as it is a little ridiculous to cook two versions of a family meal.

I continue to read about food and what we (should) eat, why we (should) eat it, and how much we (should) eat. I remain the omnivore in the middle.