On Anger

I’ll be honest … I have a bit of an anger problem. I have a very long fuse but when I finally blow my top the results can be devastating. When my stoic Icelandic shell finally cracks, an inner Nordic berserker is released on an unsuspecting world. Far too often, those who bear the brunt of my anger are not the ones that deserve it. There is a lot of collateral damage.

When my mother passed, for example, I found myself consumed with a lot of unresolved anger. It took every ounce of willpower that I had to not lash out at people whose only crime was in expressing their condolences. When someone who had met my mother once would remark, “I am so sorry for your loss. Your mother was such a lovely woman,” it was extremely difficult to smile gracefully and thank them. What I wanted to tell them was, “You have no idea what kind of woman my mother was. If you did, you wouldn’t deign to say that to my face.” So intense was this internal rage that I starting seeing a therapist in the hopes that I could learn to control it, or even to let it go. It was also the reason I re-started my long-forsaken practice of daily meditation. I’ve also been reading a lot of Buddhist philosophy, including the works of Thict Nhat Hanh and Jack Kornfield.

What I have found is — while a lot of Buddhist teachings describe anger as a negative and destructive emotion — it can be intelligently controlled and constructively channeled. That is currently what I am trying to do.

For instance, this was a particularly challenging week at work. I was extremely frustrated by the failure of some of my colleagues to meet their professional obligations. When I discovered that the people responsible for administering one of my grants had failed to submit my annual progress report in a timely fashion I was furious, even though this did not have any adverse impact on me or my grant-funded project. When I learned that another of my reports had been lost by the National Institutes of Health because of a computer glitch — costing me, perhaps, an additional four hours of time in reconstructing and resubmitting the report — I was equally enraged.

Similarly, as a political progressive who spends a lot of time teaching, writing and working on issues of social justice, it is difficult not to become extremely angry about the efforts of our current political leaders to repeal the Affordable Care Act, restrict reproductive rights, legalize discrimination against the LGBT community, and stigmatize an entire religion by banning visitors and immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries.

But what working with my therapist, delving into traditional and modern Buddhist texts, and practicing mindfulness daily has taught me is this: anger can be harnessed. Anger can be redirected and used to achieve some good. Anger can strengthen resolve and spur people to engage in positive action.

Rather than lash out at my professional colleagues, I have instead started working with them to establish a clear set of policies and procedures that are meant to ensure timely submission of grant applications, renewals and progress reports. This not only benefits me directly but also helps others at the university who struggle with the same problems. Moreover, in doing so we realized that one of the problems is a systemic one: the lack of institutional resources and support for the Research Office. I am now working with these colleagues collaboratively to come up with a proposal to address this problem by training my assistant in grant management and shifting some of her responsibilities (and salary) from my department to theirs.

My frustration with the current political system in the US has also lead me to take action. I have gotten directly engaged in the political process by calling my local, state and national representatives to express my concerns. I have also begun to look at other ways that I can become more directly involved, be it through participating in protest and demonstrations, attending city council meetings, and even looking at opportunities to run for office.

All of this has taught me not to fear, to suppress or to dismiss my anger. Rather, I am learning to embrace it and turn it into a force for good.



On Getting Meals Delivered

Most of you have probably heard of meal delivery services, whether through television spots, Facebook ads, or email offers. The business concept blends the idea of convenience with healthy eating. For a small weekly subscription fee, you can receive ingredients and recipes for cooking 3 to 5 nutritionally balanced and delicious meals delivered straight to your door.

Of course, you still have to cook the food, but the detailed step-by-step instructions — with full-color illustrations – makes it possible to create a restaurant worthy meal in less than 45 minutes. Moreover, you have full control over the preparation of the food (i.e. you can add or delete ingredients you don’t like, ramp up the spice level, cut out the salt, or whatever you want to make the food to your taste). Most of the meals delivery services also provide detailed nutritional information online or right on the recipe card so you know just how many calories and grams of what you are consuming, unlike when you order Chinese food from the takeout place down the road.

My husband and I first tried one of these services shortly after I was released from the hospital, thanks to a gift from sister and another from a friend of mine. We quickly became enamored of that service, Hello Fresh, and became regular subscribers. However, as part of my 2017 resolution to gain greater personal balance – physically, mentally and financially – I decided to do an experiment (I have a Ph.D. in biology after all). Specifically, I decided to compare the quality, ease, and price of four of the most commonly advertised meal delivery services: Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Home Chef, and Plated. Most of these services offer discounts for first-time users, which I took advantage off. The cost per meal also changes depending on the number of meals per week and the number of servings per meal. Some also have different “levels” of service, depending on if you are a strict vegetarian or eat meat, want to add on the occasional breakfast or snack, and if you want to select higher end meals like filet mignon. For the comparisons below, I’m only looking at an entry-level plan consisting of 3 dinners for 2 people a week.

  1. Blue Apron ($59.94/week, or $9.99/person/meal)

For our week of Blue Apron, we feasted on Bucatini Pasta Bolognese with Brussels Sprouts, Chicken Paillard with Potato and Fennel, and a Mushroom and Spinach Stromboli. Most of the meals were sufficiently tasty and satisfying, but there were rarely any leftovers for lunch. The thing that I didn’t care for was that Blue Apron restricts your menu options in ways that the other meal delivery services do not. By choosing a beef dish, for example, I found that my other menu choices were severely limited for that week, which made it impossible to select gluten-free or dairy-free options for all the meals delivered. I also felt that the food was packaged in a haphazard manner, without any clear sorting. In order to know what ingredients would be needed for each meal, I had to read the recipe card carefully and sort through the fridge for the necessary items. Finally, I didn’t find the instructions on the recipe card to be particularly user-friendly in terms of the timing, tips for cooking, etc. That said, the one thing that I did appreciate was that Blue Apron was the most forward thinking of the meal delivery services in terms of the recycling/reuse of the packing materials (e.g. recycling instructions are placed on Blue Apron website prominently, and you can also send back for free).

  1. Hello Fresh ($69.00/week, or $11.50/person/meal)

For our latest week of Hello Fresh, we received a menu consisting of Honey Mustard Chicken with Baked Veggies, Sizzling Beef Stir-Fry on Jasmine Rice, and Shawarma-Spiced Pork with Couscous. As with Blue Apron, there were rarely any leftovers for lunch. In general, I would probably rate the meals from Hello Fresh among my favorites, although some of the produce itself was a little wilted. Hello Fresh is also very user-friendly in the approach that it takes. For example, it packages the ingredients so that each meal comes in a separate box (except for the proteins, of course). The recipe themselves are also very straightforward, with the timing of each step made clear and lots of tips to ensure effective multitasking.

  1. Home Chef ($59.70/week, or $9.95/person/meal)

Home Chef provided, in my opinion, both the best and the worst of the meals that we ate. The London Broil Sirloin Steak with Sweet Potato Fries was fantastic but the Bone-in Pork Chop with Candied Walnut Butter and Acorn Squash was tough and overly sweet. The toughness might have been a result of overcooking on my part. The third meal provided that week, the Thai Chicken Salad, was tasty but forgettable. Overall, the meals provided by Home Chef seemed the most complete, as they included well thought-out sides where appropriate. We also had leftovers for most dinners, making the preparation for lunch the next day quick and cheap. Like Hello Fresh, this meal delivery service carefully packed and sorted the ingredients, although it used recyclable plastic bags rather than boxes. However, the produce that we received was of higher quality than any of the other meal delivery services we tried. The recipes themselves were also very straightforward, although the timing wasn’t always so clear. Home Chef also provides lots of cooking tips and explanations (including some of the science of cooking), as well as calorie counts on the menu cards and a plastic binder for organizing saved recipes. Finally, like Blue Apron, Home Chef provides detailed information on how to recycle the packing materials.

  1. Plated ($72.00/week, or $12.00/person/meal)

 The most expensive of the services was also the most disappointing. I truly enjoyed most of the meals themselves – Chicken Shwarma, Meatball Sliders (a little salty for my taste), and Bok Choy Stir Fry Rice – but there were two major problems. Before we even received the shipment, for example, I received an email alert and correction of a mistake on the one of the recipe cards; not a big deal but, as the cliché goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression. The other problem was a little more serious. Specifically, some of the produce had started to spoil only a couple of days after receiving the shipment, requiring replacement with fresh from our own pantry.

All told, all four of the meal delivery services did an excellent job. After considering the money and time I would have spent planning meals, shopping for groceries, and tossing out the moldy produce or rotting meat that had been forgotten in the back of the fridge, I do think that the cost of a weekly meal delivery service is also in line with my new found frugality. A quick check of the prices of the ingredients used for the meals provided by Hello Fresh and Home Chef, for instance, found only a $5.00 cost savings for store bought as compared to delivered.

Finally, although I think that Hello Fresh provided the best meals overall, I found that Home Chef provided the best value and the highest quality. They also offered the largest selection of meals and made it easy to sort meals according to dietary preferences.

On Going Primal

A lot has been said and written about some of the more common diets that people are pursuing, promoting, profiting from. These include the Mediterranean Diet (which emphasizes eating plenty fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish and lean meats), the Atkins Diet (which limits consumption of sugars and carbohydrates), commercial diets like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig (which relies on a combination of pre-packaged meals and individual or group support), and the widely popular Paleo Diet.

The latter diet is probably the one that has engendered the some of the most heated and acrimonious debate of late. US News and World Report recently ranked it dead last out of 35 diets that they had reviewed by a panel of dietary experts. On the other hand, there are numerous scientific studies that suggest that adopting a Paleo lifestyle may actually be effective in promoting weight loss, as well as in helping people control blood pressure and plasma cholesterol without medication. Detractors call it dangerous while supporters laud its effectiveness.

As the name might suggest, the idea behind the Paleo diet is that human beings evolved eating only those types of foods that were available during the Paleolithic era, long before the rise of agriculture. Also known as the ‘Caveman Diet’, the Paleo Diet emphasizes eating those foods that would have been consumed by someone living a pre-industrial, pre-agricultural, nomadic, hunting-gathering sort of life. Thus, this approach stresses a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and plenty of meats, along with so-called good fats. The more heavily processed foods that are a large part of the Standard American Diet (or SAD, as it is pejoratively known by Paleo followers) are forbidden, as are sugars, grains, dairy, and alcohol). A variant of the Paleo Diet, known as the Primal Diet, allows for more consumption of saturated fats (like grass-fed butter or coconut oil), the occasional ingestion of dairy (particularly raw or fermented dairy), and even the odd glass of wine or shot of tequila now and then.

There are many pros and cons to adopting a Paleo or Primal lifestyle. Yes, they are better described as lifestyles rather than as diets, because both Paleo and Primal emphasize a holistic approach to living. This includes not only eating a diet low in carbohydrates and rich in nutrient-dense foods, but also a fitness plan that focuses on natural movement and strength building, a wellness plan that includes mindfulness, relaxation, and ample sleep, and other changes that are meant to mimic a prehistoric lifestyle in our modern wired and wireless world.

I’ve been following a Primal lifestyle off-and-on for about two years now, my recent hospitalization not withstanding. It was physically difficult to follow the diet, for example, when you are limited to a surgical or soft-food menu. So, it was eat a sandwich or starve during the 21 days that I was in the hospital. The stress of the holidays and of my mother’s passing made it mentally challenging to get ‘back on the Primal wagon’. But I’m back … and the rest of this post is about my brief thoughts as to the pros and cons of the Primal lifestyle.

So what are the cons? First and foremost, it takes a lot of commitment to make the radical dietary and lifestyle changes that a living a Primal (or Paleo) life requires. It’s hard enough to avoid eating sugars, consuming grains, or avoiding alcohol at home, let along when grabbing a 15-minute lunch at work or going out for dinner and a movie with friends. The recent gluten-free fad has helped make it easier, at least when dining out, and there are plenty of recipes and cookbooks out there, but it’s still tough. There are also a lot of naysayers out there – most often your friends and family — telling you why you are wrong and tempting you with pepperoni pizza.

The diet can also be potentially unhealthy, particularly with regard to overconsumption of saturated fats. Contrary to what some critics (and even promoters) have said, this is not a lifestyle in which you are free to eat all of the eggs and bacon that you want.

That said, there are a lot of advantages to this lifestyle. It emphasizes eating high quality foods, particularly those that are locally and ethically sourced. It gets you back into the kitchen, and focused on preparing healthy meals with your family. It gets you thinking about all of the other social factors that influence your health, including improving the length and quality of sleep, reducing stress and anxiety, avoiding the overuse of electronic media and devices, and regular meditation or mindfulness sessions. For those who can make the change, the immediate and long terms benefits are clear, not only with respect to diet and exercise, but also in the relationships you have with your friends and family. More importantly, the lifestyle allows to you make small changes that reap big results over time.

On Keeping My Resolutions – Days 9-14

We’re now two weeks into the new year, which is usually around the time that most people fail with their resolutions. Psychological research has shown that if you can keep a resolution for three weeks, it becomes a habit and is more likely to stick. I’ve got my fingers crossed in that regard.

Another stressful week at work, including a new self-proposed project which may or may not yield any useful results. Still, I am doing well so far. Since my last summary I’ve been able to:

  1. Continue with my plan to take a full hour for lunch, although on Thursday I did have a lunch meeting. To make up for that, I made sure to take 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after for personal time.
  2. Meditate for at least 15 minutes daily, except on Thursday because of the crazy schedule that day. I’ve slowly been increasing the duration of my sessions as well, and hope to average 20 minutes a day starting next week. I’ve also been taking advantage of the new meditation and mindfulness techniques I was researching last week. I will admit, however, that during one session I did fall asleep.
  3. Sign up for a random class on Udemy.com, taking advantage of one of their promotions to sign up for a 45+ hour business course for only $10. I’ve also been spending a couple of minutes very morning and every evening looking at some of the brief tutorials on Curious.com to learn something new every day. I now have a new found appreciation for Ethio-jazz.
  4. Go out for dinner and saw a movie (Rogue One, finally) with my husband and some friends. We’ve been trying to get together for a while, but various holidays, family obligations and illnesses kept getting in the way. The hubby was a total trooper, given that he’s still fighting his nasty head cold.
  5. Speak with my father, my sister, and a dear friend from New York City on the phone this week. The latter is an actor with whom I occasionally work, and some of the conversation focused on upcoming courses at the University, but we did spend a good 15-20 minutes just shooting the breeze (albeit largely complaining about how crappy 2016 was).
  6. Again post something positive to Facebook every day, ranging from links to Ethio-jazz songs to funny videos and inspirational quotes.
  7. Get to the gym a couple of times. I even started back in a Crossfit-type class that I particularly enough, although I had difficulty walking the next day.
  8. Continue the experiment to determine which, if any, of the meal delivery services are the most cost-effective, time-saving, nutritious, and tasty. We’ve now tried Blue Apron and Hello Fresh and will be making the first of three Home Chef-provided meals tonight.
  9. Kept my cool when some of my work colleagues annoyed me by failing to complete tasks or forgetting to show up to critical meetings. I’m still a little frustrated that they haven’t bothered to apologize, as I would have, but am working on letting that expectation go.
  10. Writing something every day, even if it is not something that is shared publicly or professionally.

As with my last summary, there have been a couple of failures this week. I’m still not getting my diet locked in because of various stressful events that trigger strong cravings for sugar and carbs (or that require a shot of alcohol). I also was unable to stick to my plan to batch emails, only answering them three times a day. Some of that was due to issues at work that required an immediate response, but other times I simply fell into my old pattern of behavior. That might be something worth addressing more actively, perhaps by using a computer program designed to block my access to email except for certain times of the day. Finally, because of some unexpected bills from various doctors and specialists, I had to dip into my savings or use a credit card in order to meet my financial obligations in a timely fashion. However, I plan to replenish those savings and pay off the credit card in full this month.

On Saving Money (or Not) with Thrive

About once a month, I place an order with Thrive Market (Disclosure: if you click on this link and become a member, I will get a small commission for referring you. You do get a free month to try it out first).

For those of you who have never heard of Thrive, it is essentially an online food co-op — or as they call it, a “membership community” — that specializes in organic foods and natural beauty products. I like Thrive because it has a good selection of specialty foods, particularly gluten-free, paleo-friendly and organic foods, all of which are easily browsed thanks to categorical menus. They also have a free healthy living blog that occasionally has a good recipe or three, and the company is committed to sustainable living by being carbon neutral and using recycled packaging.

I spend $59.95/year for a membership, in exchange for which I get access to healthy non-perishable foods, bathroom and cleaning products at reduced prices (you’ll still have to get your fresh produce and meats locally, such as at your weekly Farmers’ Market). I also get free shipping if I spend more than $49 on an order (easily done since I usually batch my orders and also make purchases for colleagues and friends). I usually also wait until Thrive is offering some sort of special, usually free products like granola bars or cooking oil. This time, I got a free box of Primal Kitchen Chocolate Hazelnut Grass-Fed Collagen Bars by placing an order that exceeded $59.

Now, most of the products that I buy through Thrive are available at my local grocery store or food co-op. Alternatively, if I don’t want to drive to the store and can wait a couple of days for delivery, they can be obtained through Amazon (I also pay $99 annually for Amazon Prime, which I consider well worth the cost in terms of the free two-day shipping, access to the Video, Music and Reading libraries, and the Kindle First benefits). I similarly pay for an annual membership to BJ’s Wholesale Club, the cost of which I largely recoup in Diet Coke (as a mixer for my rum) and bacon.

When I logged onto Thrive Market today to place my order, I was cheerfully greeted by a banner that proclaimed that I had Lifetime Savings of $377.17 and Projected Annual Savings of $502.89, the Lifetime being less than the Projected Annual Savings as I haven’t yet been a member for a full year yet. But that got me wondering … does Thrive Market actually help me save money? Is it worth the annual membership fee?

So, figured I’d do a little research. Here’s what I ordered from Thrive this month:

Traditional Medicinals Roasted Dandelion Root Tea for $3.75 a box.

Acure Organics Brightening Facial Scrub for $6.45.

Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar at $2.55 for a 16-ounce bottle.

Mavuno Harvest Organic Dried Pineapple at $7.95 a bag.

Simple Mills Almond Flour Focaccia & Sandwich Bread Mix for $7.55 a box.

Thrive Market Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil at $14.95 for at 24.5-ounce bottle.

Red Boat Fish Sauce Fish Sauce at $6.95 for 8.45 fluid ounces.

Dr. Bronner’s Organic Peppermint Castile Bar Soap at $3.45 a bar (2).

San J International Organic Tamari Gluten-Free Soy Sauce at $6.45 a bottle.

Glutenfreeda Maple Raisin with Flax Instant Oatmeal for $3.95.

As mentioned before, I also got a 6-pack of collagen bars for free. I wouldn’t have bought these otherwise, though, so don’t count them towards any savings. All told with taxes, I spent a total of $68.53. Thrive claimed that I saved $54.69 on my purchase.

When I checked the prices of identical or comparable items on Amazon, I found that I would have spent $97.26. A few things were slightly cheaper, but to get the lowest prices I often would have had to order from third-party vendors that also charged for shipping. Similarly, at my local grocery store and food co-op, it would have been over $100.00 (and not all products were available).

Thus, I did save a decent amount by buying through Thrive Market. For this smallish order, I saved $28.73 over Amazon. Although it wasn’t quite the $54.69 claimed by Thrive on the website, at this rate I will recover the cost of my annual membership in just two months time. So, it turns out that Thrive is worth the money if you are committed to healthy eating and willing to spend a little extra to get sustainably harvested or organic foods.

While I still worry at times about the environmental impact of using an online delivery service (for this, for the meal-delivery services and for my Amazon habit), a friend of mine who is a sustainability expert did point out that in this case the harm of ordering from Thrive is offset in part by the savings associated with the reduction in carbon emissions associated with the delivery of these same goods to my local grocer and co-op (not to mention the gas required to drive to these stores).


On Keeping My Resolutions – Days 5-8

Although 2017 has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start – the professional challenges at work keep coming and I’m feeling perpetually behind on my work – I feel like I’ve been doing fairly well in managing the stress and in keeping to my non-resolution resolutions for 2017. In the past four days, for example, I have been able to:

  1. Stick with my plan to take a full hour for lunch, during which time I will focus on the personal rather than the professional.
  2. Meditate for at least 15 minutes daily.
  3. Engage in some reading for pleasure, including listening to some books on tape while walking to and from work and researching some new meditation and mindfulness techniques.
  4. Nurse my husband through his nasty head cold with calm and grace, even when his clogged sinuses make him snore so loudly that the whole bed shakes.
  5. Do some random acts of kindness, including a sympathy card for a friend who lost her cousin unexpectedly and a ‘just because’ romantic card for Dan.
  6. Talk to one family member or friend on the phone every day, including a person that I haven’t spoken to in nearly six months.
  7. Post something positive daily to Facebook (and totally independent of the snarky running commentary that this year’s awards season always inspires).
  8. Cleaned up the blog’s website a little bit to make it a little more user-friendly.
  9. Get to the gym a couple of times, with a plan to increase both the length and duration of my visits over the next month or so until I am back to where I was before my hospitalization.
  10. Carefully plan a financial experiment to determine which, if any, of the meal delivery services like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Home Chef, and Plated are cost effective, time saving, nutritious, and tasty. Expect a blog report on that in about two weeks time once we receive, prepare, and eat a representative sample from each.
  11. Transferred a $500.00 gift from my dad into the Barcelona fund, and also applied for a couple of grants and consulting gigs. I’m also looking at ways of monetizing my personal and professional writing activities.

Of course, I would be lax after the first week of 2017 if I didn’t note a few failures, including my inability to stick to the Whole30 (largely because some work- and family-induced stress [my most common triggers] resulted in bingeing on some chocolate and needing a stiff drink), not making much headway on the budgeting stuff, and the fact that I haven’t had time this week to work on the book. Will get back on the eating healthy and writing professionally wagon soon. At least I can say that I’ve gotten back into the habit of writing every day through this blog, my NPR commentaries, and other personal and professional activities. I’d forgotten how cathartic writing can be.

On Absurdity and the Loss of a Parent

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my mother passed away last month. Today is actually the one month anniversary of her death.

My mother and I had a very complex and tumultuous relationship. The same can be said for my sister. Things had improved somewhat in recent years, primarily because both my sister and I had established very clear boundaries — physical, emotion and financial — that my mother largely respected.

To put it another way: I loved my mother, but I didn’t like her very much.

Because my mother had not remarried, despite living off and on with her partner of the last 25 years, when she was admitted to the hospital in severe septic shock I began her de facto health care proxy. I’ve actually

I’ve actually written and spoken about this experience professionally, particularly the challenges of making end-of-life decisions for someone who had never clearly expressed or articulated her wishes on the matter. As tough as it was over the course of two days to make difficult decisions about resuscitation and life support for a dying relative, I am completely at peace with the choices that I made.

Moreover, while many might rue the lost opportunity to resolve ancient hurts and redress past offenses, I too am largely at peace with the relationship that my mother had in the final years of her life. It is true that her passing led me to seek professional counseling, but this decision was driven more by my frustration in dealing with the unrealistic public expectations of lamentation and grief that I felt were placed upon me than any unresolved feelings of anger and disappointment with my mother.

My mother also died intestate, leaving my sister and me to deal with the financial and legal ramifications of her passing. She is handling all of the legal issues (she is a lawyer after all), while I am handling the rest. This includes dealing with all of the funerary arrangements, including the disposition of my mother’s ashes following her cremation. And this is where the absurdity comes into play …

My mother lived and died in California, whereas my sister lives in Oregon and I live in New York. Although we were able to attend the memorial service, because of the funeral’s timing neither of us were still in California when my mother’s ashes were available for collection. Apparently, this is not uncommon. Funeral homes regularly send cremated remains to the next-of-kin through the US Postal Service, which provides the only legal method of shipping cremated remains domestically or internationally.

My mother’s ashes were scheduled to arrive this past Thursday morning, and I spent the morning working from home so that I would be present to receive and sign for them. They didn’t arrive. When I called the funeral home that afternoon to express concern, they admitted to me that they’d neglected to send them as promised but that they had shipped out that afternoon for a Friday delivery.

Unfortunately, neither my husband nor I were able to take Friday morning off, so the mailman left us a notice that the ashes could be picked up at our neighborhood post office. But when I went this morning, they were nowhere to be found.

After patiently waiting in line for over fifteen minutes — of the three windows open at the post office this Saturday morning, only one was devoted to the sending and collection of mail, with the other two dealing with the flood of passport requests following Donald Trump’s election — I dutifully presented my delivery notice and driver’s license to the postal worker at the window. She vanished for ten minutes, shamefacedly returning to the window to let me know that the package was missing.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, I found this absurdly funny. Struggling to keep a straight face, I calmly informed the poor woman helping me that the missing package contained my late mother’s ashes and that we definitely needed to find it. The look on her face was priceless … comedic actors would pay huge sums of money to learn how to get that classic ‘deer in the headlights’ look. She quickly retreated and found the station’s postmaster who, after herself looking for the package, avered that it had gone out for delivery again. (At this point, I also texted my sister and husband to let them know that “Mom had gotten lost in the mail.”). In a sense, we lost my mother twice in one month: once to death and once to the US Postal Service.

Returning home, I calmly waited for our local mail carrier. When the mail flap opened, letters and magazines spilling over the floor but with no knock or doorbell announcing the arrival of my mom, I jumped out of my chair and ran to the door. Sprinting down the stairs and across the street to where the mailman was delivering a pile of bills and catalogs to our neighbor, I calmly asked him if he happened to have a package for special delivery.

Thankfully, he did. Apparently, it was little too heavy for him to carry and he’d promised to drop it by after he completed his route. He did so about 45 minutes later, and a cardboard box prominently labeled ‘cremated remains’ is now safely secured on an upper shelf in our walkthrough closet (well out of the reach of curious animals).

While not everyone might find this story amusing, to my sister and I this is one of the funniest things that has happened in a long time. Even in death, my mother continues to vex us. More importantly, I think that she too found find this hysterical.

As Carrie Fisher (who died not long after my mother did) once said, “”If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.” Perhaps this is why Carrie herself was interred in an urn shaped like a Prozac capsule, a posthumous, humorous and bluntly honest reference to her struggle with bipolar disease.

While I do not plan to bury my mother in a pill-shaped urn — a wine bottle-shaped urn would be more appropriate anyway — I do think that Carrie was right … one must always strive to find the humor, absurdity, and joy in life, even in the most troubling of time. Otherwise, life is just unacceptable.

I think my mother would agree. Moreover, I suspect that she and Carrie Fisher are likely hanging out now, getting drunk on cheap wine as my mother unabashedly asks for some money.

On Keeping My Resolutions – Days 2-4

Things I’ve done over the past three days to meet my 2017 resolutions:

  1. My husband is still quite sick, so I’ve been letting him sleep, running to the pharmacy to get over-the-counter meds, and ordering his favorite Wonton-Egg Drop soup from our local Chinese take-out restaurant.
  2. Called my sister to follow up on some legal issues, but also to inquire about the progress she’s made on hunting for a vacation home on the Oregon coast.
  3. Randomly called my friend Andrea (a professor in the Washington, DC area) to see how she was doing and to have a Seinfeld-esque conversation about nothing.
  4. Posted a picture of my husband and myself at Niagara Falls from our chilly Boxing Day visit, a YouTube cover of Van Morrison’s “And It Stoned Me” by a favorite artist (Passenger), and a link to a video dance tribute to the Pulse Nightclub shooting to Facebook. #MyOwnHappinessProject.
  5. Saw my therapist for my bimonthly mental tune up. I’ve only been going to her for a couple of months now, since my mother’s passing, but have already come to appreciate her Jewish grandmother-hippie-Eastern philosophy based-approach to mental wellness. For our agreed upon approach for the near term, we’ve decided to try and develop positivity rather than dwell on old hurts. I’ve got a nice reading list and a suggestion to continue daily meditation.
  6. Stuck to batching my work emails, checking them only first thing in the morning, right before lunch, and just before I leave for the day.
  7. Got a 90-minute massage and hit the gym twice.
  8. Sat with my colleagues and chatted socially at lunch rather than responding to student inquiries.

On Eating Healthier and Exercising Regularly

Despite the title of this blog, I’m actually not overweight. I’m 6 feet tall and weigh 172 pounds, well within the normal range for a nearly 47-year-old man. What I am not is in shape.

I was once. Actually, I was multiple times throughout my life. When I was in my early 20’s, for example, I was a competitive martial artist. Not only did I have visible abs, I was flexible enough to do Jan-Claude Van Damme like splits. That all ended with a severe separation of my left shoulder.

Shortly thereafter, given I could no longer to do the punches, throws, and rolls of my favored fighting style, I took up marathon running. Running over 100 miles weekly ensured that I kept my six-pack while still eating 4,500 calories daily. That all ended with the severe damage to my knees and back. In fact, as a result of the latter, I learned that I suffer from a degenerative disorder that is slowly causing my vertebrae to crumble. A decade and two discectomies later I am an inch-and-a-half shorter than I was in college.

Since then, my weight level has fluctuated widely. At my heaviest, I weighed nearly 200 pounds. At my lightest, shortly after my recent hospitalization, I was a mere 160 pounds. My healthiest was actually right after my wedding, the result of six months of intense workouts and careful eating, although I was in pretty decent shape until my recent bout with peritonitis kept me out of the gym for over three months.

My problem, as you might guess, is not motivation. My problem is time and the fact that I tend to eat like a four-year-old. Savory snacks, in particular, are my downfall and I am still struggling with the temptations of all the chips, crackers, and other salty snacks that clutter our house following the holiday season.

So how to handle this? Starting tomorrow I will be back on the wagon and following a Whole30 diet plan. For anyone who has never heard of the Whole30 plan, it is pretty simple. You simply ditch all of the processed crappy that normally makes up the bulk of the modern American diet. Specifically, you focus on eating only fresh good-quality meats and vegetables while avoiding grains, dairy, soy, legumes, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol. All of these prohibited foods, according to the theory behind the Whole 30, are linked to systemic inflammation, hormonal fluctuations, and imbalances in your microbiotic flora. That said, I usually continuing eating dairy as I am an not lactose intolerant and I come from an evolutionary background in which these sorts of foods made up a large part of the diet.

I’ve done this in the past and, while I rarely lose (and do not need to lose) a large amount of weight on the Whole30, I usually feel a hell of a lot better once I get over the initial sugar withdrawal. I also find that it is a cheaper way of eating, helping with some of my financial goals for this year. The only downside, as far as I can tell, is wasting all of the food we have in the house that is not Whole30-compliant.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll also be tracking and posting publicly all that I eat in the hopes that this will dissuade any cheating.

On Keeping My Resolutions – Day 1

Things I did today to meet my 2017 resolutions:

  1. Let my husband sleep while I took down and stored all of the indoor and outdoor Christmas decorations. We’re both fighting a nasty sinus infection, but he’s been hit a lot worse and slept poorly last night.
  2. Called my father to wish him a happy 77th birthday.
  3. Posted a comic from one of my favorite sites – The Oatmeal – to Facebook with the hashtag #MyOwnHappinessProject
  4. Created a new budget for 2017 using the online tool YNAB (You Need A Budget). Although it is a paid service, unlike Mint and other common budgeting tools, it is more intuitive to me, offers a 34-day free trial, and has a number of handy workshops on personal finance and professional development.