My Clean Eating Challenge, Part Three

This is the second half of my clean eating challenge journal. You can read the first part here.

Day 5Arparagus & Pouched Eggs

This morning’s Asparagus with Poached Eggs was tasty enough, considering my aversion to asparagus and recent encounters with eggs. Even so, by 11AM I was hungry again and already craving my mid-day snack. Fortunately my boyfriend and my better judgement intervened and told me if I ate my snack early I’d be kicking myself come 3PM. They were right.

Dinner was Turkey-Basil Meatballs with Tomato Sauce with Sautéed Collard Greens. The name is the recipe, and the writer in me cringes to see the word ‘with’ used twice. But the food was good, and an interesting look at life without gluten (using greens where I would normally use noodles).

One problem with recipes that simply say “one bunch” of collard greens as a measurement is that they don’t consider the possibility that you’ve never bought collard greens before and you have no idea that your local store sells double-sized bunches. There’s a lot of collared greens in my freezer.

Day 6


Lunch today was Shakshuka: two eggs poached in asparagus and tomato sauce. The eggs took much longer than the specified seven minutes, which led me to overconfidently walk away from the pan and overcook them. It was still good, though it’s weird to eat a dish made of mostly sauce.

Snack was six strawberries with a tablespoon of almond butter and holy cow was it delicious. I’ve been missing peanut butter and while almond butter isn’t quite the same, it was a reasonable substitute. I was worried that I had eaten my snack too late and too close to dinner, but those worries vanished when I realized what a herculean task dinner was going to be.

Roasted EverythingThere’s no real oven in my apartment, just a little toaster oven. This evening’s dinner involved roasting large batches of three different things for different lengths of time. This recipe would be unreasonable even if I had a real oven. If you do it right you have to use three full-sized baking sheets and be able to fit them all in the oven at once. Unfortunately the meal was delicious. It even looked fancy. For as long as it took to prepare and as cold as my cauliflower got by the time I was ready to eat, it may have been worth it. I’ll have to play around with this one more in the future.

Day 7

Snack was blackberries with yogurt. The second bin of yogurt I bought was a different brand than the first, and I can really taste the difference. It’s creamier, smoother, and seems to have more flavor. I hesitate to point out that the better yogurt also happened to be organic, since the organic label has grown meaningless with over-use. But in the interest of experimentation, I’ll try out some other yogurt brands (both organic and non) in the coming months.

Day 8

Last night I was hit by a monster cold, which had turned into something truly atrocious by the time I woke up at 5AM to cancel my meetings and tell work I wouldn’t be coming in. I took some generic NyQuil and managed to get a solid 5 hours of sleep before sickness pulled me up again a 10AM.

chickpea avodcado feta saladBreakfast for today was supposed to be Cauliflower Hash with Fried Eggs, but I couldn’t fathom trying to eat such a thing. Instead I opted to switch it with tomorrow’s breakfast, a Kale and Banana Smoothie. The smoothie was awful and I don’t think it was the sickness. The flavor and texture of kale are too overwhelming for a smoothie. I’ll take a spinach-based drink any day.

I took another nap and managed to get myself out of bed with enough energy to fix my lunch – Arugula Salad with Eggplant, Avocado, and Chickpeas. It was actually pretty good, and I didn’t get that bad taste from the arugula that I had last time. Perhaps several days in the fridge toned down the sharpness, or the flavors of the salad were able to offset it. Or maybe I was so stuffed up I couldn’t taste things properly.

Cauliflower HashDay 9

I was still in recovery mode today, so breakfast didn’t happen until almost 11AM. I had the Cauliflower Hash with Fried Eggs that I was supposed to have yesterday, and it was pretty good. It’s a hash made of onions instead of potatoes, and it turned out nice and sweet. I did opt to include just half an onion though, since eating a whole onion the day after a bad cold seemed unseemly.

My snack was fantastic. They call it Banana Avocado Pudding. I’m not sure what distinguishes a pudding from a smoothie in their eyes, but I loved it. The avocado makes for a really smooth texture and adds a lot of tasty fat to the banana. This is definitely a recipe I’m going to be keeping around.

Radish & Egg SaladDinner was Snap Pea Salad with Feta, Radish, and Hard-Boiled Egg. I wasn’t looking forward to it. But I ate it, because that’s what the plan told me to eat. It’s the primary benefit of this food challenge. For as much work as it’s been to make my food, I haven’t been thinking about it at all. There’s no question of snacking, no indecision about dinner. There’s no guilt about how many handfuls of chocolate chips is too many, or concern about skipping breakfast in favor of a sizable morning snack. I know exactly what I’m going to eat all day, every day. It’s made having a food restriction easier. I’m never wondering if there will be something I can eat at the party, because I won’t eat anything at the party. I’m not eating anything I didn’t make and bring. There’s freedom in that level of restriction.

We don’t often think of how stressful choosing our own food can be. Each choice you make is a little taxing, no matter how small a choice it is. It’s been a lot of work to stick with this challenge, but it’s never been a drain on my decision muscles. Today one of my co-workers brought me one of the new pumpkin-flavored chocolates she got for the reception desk. I didn’t eat it. I didn’t even think of eating it. During this challenge, there’s no such thing as temptation.

Day 10

My snack was a pear with two tablespoons of raw, unsalted peanuts. Fun Fact: It is close to impossible to find raw, unsalted nuts in the modern supermarket. With last week’s pistachios I had to settle for roasted but unsalted, and for this week’s peanuts I had to get Spanish peanuts instead of the regular ones.

Second fun fact: Spanish peanuts aren’t very good. They’re a little “green” as my boyfriend put it. It’s like you picked the peanuts before they were ripe, and now they taste like leaves.

Parchment FishMy dinner of Asian-Style Cod in Parchment with Bok Choy had a couple of problems. The recipe has you cutting a piece of parchment paper in the shape of a heart for absolutely no reason (I kept mine a solid, honest rectangle). It also has you putting raw bok choy and shallots under a piece of fish and then cooking it for only 12 minutes. This makes for some very raw and severe veggies, especially the shallot. The fish itself was nothing to write home about. I forgot to add the chopped peanuts, but that’s probably for the best.

Tomorrow’s snack is carrot sticks with hummus again, a combination I’ve discovered I only really like as an appetizer served at someone else’s house. There’s something truly unfulfilling about it, like I’m just eating to keep myself busy. I have a problem with eating out of boredom, but I’d rather get rid of the habit than replace it with carrots.

Day 11

Overnight OatsBreakfast was Overnight Oats with Strawberries and Chia Seeds. It was good and flavorful enough, but it’s hard to overcome the basic feature of being soggy and cold. I think I’d prefer to ditch the oats and milk in favor of granola.

For lunch I had Snap Pea and Radish Salad with Quinoa and Arugula. This challenge has been a real tour of salads, and I’m discovering that I only find salads tolerable when they include something filling. Today that was the quinoa, which made the whole salad a lot more satisfying and cut the strength of the oil/vinegar dressing. The other thing I’m finding is that I don’t like oil/vinegar dressing.

Shrimp Lettuce CupsI forgot to add the tamari sauce to my Spicy Tamari Shrimp Lettuce Cups, but shrimp and garlic is such a good combination I didn’t notice. Eating was a royal mess. Perhaps next time I can cut up the lettuce into little bite-sized pieces and eat it with a fork. Lettuce cups are interesting in theory, but in practice they just aren’t worth it. I’m fine ordering lettuce cups when I’m out at a nice restaurant with friends, but does every meal need to feel like an experience?

Day 12

I ate a Chive and Feta Omelet this morning as my last meal. Technically I should have finished the challenge at the end of the day, but ending early was one of the scheduling concessions I had to make. Like all the omelets I made during the challenge, the Chive and Feta turned out well. But I’m sick of eggs for breakfast. I’m glad I can go back to smoothies now.

BreadFor lunch I ate out with friends and managed to stay unintentionally gluten-free. For dinner I celebrated my new culinary freedom with chocolate milk and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was nice to throw together something simple. It was nice to make a meal without measuring spoons. Most of all, it was nice to have bread again. Maybe I am gluten-dependent.


I’ve got one more post coming about what I learned from my food challenge, plus a bonus post on which recipes I recommend.

My Clean Eating Challenge, Part Two

I did it! I completed the Buzzfeed Clean Eating Challenge as promised. I journaled every day to track my progress, and ended up with a LOT to say. Here’s the first part of the challenge. In upcoming posts I’ll have the rest of my journal, an overall assessment, as well as recommendations on which recipes are worth trying and what I’d do differently if I did this challenge again.

Day 1

I was pretty off-put by the Blackberry Yogurt Parfait at first. I’m used to berry things being sweet, and it wasn’t sweet at all. I almost put a dollop of honey in it just because. The thing is, after a while the lack of sweetness didn’t bother me. I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with love for the dish, but somewhere near the halfway mark it stopped tasting like it lacked something. Of course that might work with any food – you eat enough in one sitting and it’s bound to start getting better or worse. Can I train the sweet tooth out of me? I’ll have to see if this translates to other unsweet dishes.

Lunch was the Asian Chicken Salad. The original recipe called for napa cabbage, which I couldn’t find at the store. I’d like to give this salad the benefit of the doubt and suggest that a different cabbage would have changed things. As it was, it was flavorless. It was like an experiment to see how difficult you could make it to eat chicken. Between the cabbage and the carrots, it felt like so much water and connecting fibers, and very little actual nutrition. Perhaps when the challenge is over I’ll try it again with a more rich and flavorful leaf, like spinach.

Cauliflower-SteaksI was really hungry by the time I started my Cauliflower Steaks with Lentils. I was nervous about the cauliflower steaks because it felt like one of those recipes that looks good on Pinterest but doesn’t work in real life. I’m happy to report that it looked weird but tasted great. My lentils were soupy, but that might have been due to some inattention on my part followed by impatience as the cauliflower was done so much sooner than the lentils. Either way, the combination turned out great.

I made it through the day with average energy levels. I experienced the usual late afternoon, post-lunch slump. When I went to bed I was still hungry.

Day 2

Feta & Scallion OmeletEverything I made today tasted great. I don’t think a Scallion and Feta Omelet is something I would normally reach for, but it turned out really well. My smoothie snack was sweet enough for me, though not as sweet as the smoothies I usually make. I suppose there’s a telling lesson in that sentence.

Lunch was Greek Salad with Lentils. The salad itself seemed huge, at first I didn’t even think I could eat all of it. The photos clearly indicated that the lentils were supposed to resemble beans, but mine were confidently oatmeal-like. I opted to make them a side dish, and they were a delicious complement. I wonder what it tastes like when you make them correctly.

Greek SaladI have never bought fennel in my life. On my shopping trip I circled the produce section four times before admitting that I had no idea what fennel looked like and asking the man stocking salad dressings. When it came time to chop it I had to enlist my boyfriend to help me figure out what they meant when they said to cut it into wedges. But in the end the Roasted Chicken Breast with Fennel and Spinach was amazing, and a testament to how much one can do with just salt, pepper, and olive oil.

I was hungry when I came home from work today. The same was true yesterday. The challenge is somewhat calorie-restrictive, but I’m wondering if it’s too restrictive. Or perhaps I’m normally eating too much. Is it possible to be gluten dependent?

Caluiflower OmeletDay 3

Today did not go well. I’m normally not very hungry first thing in the morning, so it made sense to start on breakfast after making and packing the rest of the day’s food. As I was putting the finishing touches on my Cauliflower Omelet breakfast I started to feel weak. I was suddenly very hungry. I guzzled some water, it didn’t help. I felt a knotted emptiness in my stomach. By the time the food was on the plate and the plate on the table, I wasn’t even sitting up straight. I hoped that my breakfast would fix the problem, but it didn’t work. I felt weak and dizzy. I wanted a spoonful of peanut butter. Just one spoonful. Anything to feel like there was gas in the tank.

Blueberry Qunioa Fennel SaladI moved to the couch to alternate between lying down and forcing a few bites down. I told work I’d be in late. I could feel the cooked egg in my stomach and it didn’t feel good. I thought about the smoothie I had made as a snack yesterday and it sounded good. It would be a deviation from the plan, but it would be sticking with the same ingredients. I gave myself another 20 minutes before I caved and made the smoothie. I started to feel a little better instantly, but the unsettled stomach would be with me for most of the day.

Lunch was a disappointment. I think I would have been okay with my Quinoa-Fennel-Blueberry Salad with Mint and Lime if it had a lot more blueberries – and maybe no lime. But I ate it anyway. I still didn’t feel great.

In the late afternoon I attended a meeting where the host had provided snacks. This was a real test. The cheese and crackers were calling me, especially after the morning’s struggles. But I stuck with it. I ate a couple grapes to be polite, then got out my pre-packed carrots with hummus.

Salmon on LentilsMy Simple Roasted Salmon dinner turned out well. I had no idea I could buy a salmon fillet from the store and just stick it in the oven for 8 minutes. The only seasoning is salt, pepper, and lemon. I’ve been afraid of cooking fish for a long time thinking it would be hard to get right. But this was easier than Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

Mmm. Cheese.

Day 4

Lunch today was Arugula Salad with Salmon, Green Beans, and Dijon Vinaigrette. Mine was rather understated because I hate green beans and didn’t make any. In eating this salad I discovered a very important fact about myself that has always been true but never previously identified.

I hate arugula.

I know I’ve had it before. I’ve had it many times. But it was always mixed in with other things and prepared by someone else. It was one of many leafy greens in a salad mix, or added to the top of a pizza. The taste is familiar and extremely unappetizing to me. Arugula tastes like plant. I realize that I eat a lot of plants, but arugula actually tastes like one. It’s like when you’re a little kid and you eat the leaves off of weeds just because. It’s plant-flavored.

Salmon ArugulaUnlike all those occasions when I’d had arugula in a restaurant or at a friend’s house, this time I knew exactly what was on my plate. There was no mistaking it, no shrugging it off as a weird spice mix. It was straight up arugula, no apologies. And it was gross. I still ate the whole thing. I was hungry.

This is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping would happen during this experiment: I would try new things and learn more about cooking and my personal tastes. The fish and the vinaigrette were fine, I just would have preferred a different green. And now I know. I suppose my only regret is that I still have a lot of arugula waiting for me in the fridge.

I can’t help but notice a pattern formingI haven’t felt full in days. I get hungry, and then less hungry once I eat. I talked with a co-worker and she recalled similar problems when she went on a paleo diet for a while. Her paleo friends warned her that the transition might be hard. “Your body is used to a certain number of calories from certain sources at certain times of the day.” She suggested I might just be going through an adjustment phase, and I’ll feel better next week. Here’s hoping.

Cultural Shift, Brought to You by GeekGirlCon

In the world of comic book, video game, and other nerdy conventions, there’s been an unfortunate harassment problem. Specifically it is harassment of women who come to cons dressed in costume, and it takes many forms: catcalls, groping, name calling, etc. One particularly problematic form it takes is people taking photos of women in costume without their consent. A common manifestation is the “up-skirt shot” where a harasser will do something like pretend to tie his shoe so he can take a photo of a woman’s crotch from underneath her skirt. While harassment is a problem at nearly all conventions, many do little or nothing to stop it. GeekGirlCon isn’t like that.Sailor Mars

GeekGirlCon is a Seattle convention with a specifically female-focus. While men are invited and encouraged to attend, it’s meant to be a celebration of “women contributing to science and technology; comics, arts, and literature; and game play and game design.”

While many conventions suggest that you should ask permission to take someone’s photo, GeekGirlCon insists upon it – and they mean what they say. Not only is the policy laid out explicitly in all their rules and codes of conduct, they stress consent in other ways. They make sure the official convention photographers are easy to identify so you can tell them apart from attendees. They give attendees the option to get special stickers indicating they don’t wish to be photographed at all. These stickers are honored even by those official photographers looking for candid shots. They also make it clear that if you ever see a photo of yourself on any official GeekGirlCon site and wish to have it removed, all you have to do is ask. It’s a very different atmosphere than the normal (though understandable) position of “we reserve the right to use your photo in all promotional material.”

Because of this kind of support, the rule of asking before photographing is well-followed. EXTREMELY well-followed in fact. Even if you are already posing for someone else’s photo people will ask if it is okay that they snap one as well. It’s a good policy and I’m glad they have it, but it’s had an even greater unintended consequence.

Outside of the harassment, there is a culture of benign yoyeurism at most cons. You walk by in a costume and people stare. Sometimes they try to be subtle and avert their eyes when you look over. Sometimes you hear people whisper to their friends, “Oh hey look, Sailor Moon.” Occasionally people will take your picture without asking, and when you catch them it’s clear that they just didn’t want to bother you, or didn’t think their personal photo was worth asking you to turn around. Sometimes you can tell the photo they got was pretty bad because of how you were positioned. They think it doesn’t matter because they’re the ones choosing to have a bad photo. I don’t think they realize how frustrating it can be for people who spend hours making a costume perfect to then have a bad picture taken.

Like I said, this voyeuism is benign. It’s not harassment, there’s no sexual overtone, and it doesn’t make the person in costume feel violated or unsafe. But it’s weird and sometimes annoying. You knew when you put on your costume that it would attract attention, but it’s still weird to have people stare and whisper from a few feet away.

GeekGirlCon has unintentionally abolished this voyeuristic con culture. Since you have to ask before taking someone’s picture at GeekGirlCon, you have to talk to people more. And once you start talking, you can’t stop. When I walked by in costume I didn’t hear any hushed conversations. Instead, people would tell me directly how much they loved my costume, the character, and/or the show. Even if it was just a short and simple, “Your costume is great,” it was always direct. There was nothing furtive, no whispers or sideways glances. People smiled and talked and engaged each other.

It’s a good reminder of how culture shifts happen. I’ve never even heard the voyeurism thing identified before, and I hadn’t really thought about it until I noticed its absence. It was so subtle, so light, and so accepted that no one even bothered to give it a name. All GeekGirlCon did was make a rule and stand behind it. They didn’t mean to change the culture, it happened on its own. I’m reminded of a story I heard recently about child custody laws in Oregon. Previously there had been a default of children going to the mother if there was no objection from the father, and the majority of children ended up with their mothers. The law was changed to make joint custody the default. Technically the fathers always had the right to ask for joint or full custody, but it was only after the default changed that they began to fully exercise that right. There was a huge shift in the number of fathers who requested joint or full custody after the law changed. Oregon didn’t force its fathers to stay active in the lives of their children. All it did was suggest that being a father means as much to men as being a mother does to women. And the culture shifted.

It felt great to be in costume at GeekGirlCon. I was proud of my outfit and the work I had put into it. I got to have conversations with people about the show I was representing and about the work that went in to creating my costume. I had a great time and talked with some wonderful people. And most importantly, I got to smile for every picture.Sailor Scouts


My Bookmarked Life

I realized recently that on the right side of my browser, next to the bookmarks I actually use, there lived an endless string of forgotten links. They just sort of ran off the edge of the bookmarks bar into oblivion. In theory they’re not causing any harm. They don’t take up space. But they are visual clutter – a constant reminder of yet another part of my life I don’t have a complete grasp on. Since there’s no reason to have useless buttons in front of me, I set to sorting and deleting.

BookmarksThe first few were easy. Some bookmarks were no longer useful, others had to be categorized. I had a link to an online food journal for those times when I need to be intentional about my calorie count. But I don’t usually need it, so I moved it to a Food Reference folder.

I kept clicking and deleting, and before long I found myself falling down a rabbit hole of people I once thought I would be. I found, which is full of useful suggestions like adding bluetooth to your bathroom scale, or building a Wimshurst Machine from plastic bottles. At some point in my life, I envisioned being the sort of person that would “hack” everything. I would make everything myself, adjust everything myself, be the master of my surroundings and everything in them. But from the point of view of the person I am now, I look at this as so much useless junk. I don’t need to add bluetooth to my bathroom scale because I don’t even have a bathroom scale. While I love science, the at-home tinkering aspects just never appealed to me. I was always a bigger fan of the theoretical and astronomical over the practical and mechanical. Making a lightbulb potato is nice, but I’d rather learn how stars are born.

In my Culture section I deleted a lot of links to OpenCulture. Not because they aren’t useful pages, but because I don’t need the link. I know that if I need a list of free eBooks or free university courses or free classic movies that OpenCulture is the place to go. When people talk about the benefits of the internet, they are talking about sites like that. Knowledge, art, history, education – free for all and available at our whim.

There were recipes left over from before I was tracking them in Evernote. There was a link for, apparently from a time when I was going to be an amateur artisan bread maker (I only recently got my bread machine to produce something I actually want to eat).

There was a link to Mac keyboard shortcuts from a time when they weren’t second nature to me. I found an article on making a Get Home Bag from a time before I started keeping in-case-of-volcano shoes and a full first aid kit in my car.

There was a Name That Color website for identifying the code definitions of colors from before I realized such sites are easy to find via Google at any time. Same with the sites full of guitar chords.

Some bookmarks were so old they no longer worked, like an article about Star Wars Burlesque I was saving for the photos of the awesome costumes. However it should come as no surprise that a Google Image Search of “Star Wars Burlesque” accomplishes the same thing ten-fold.

It’s funny how things like this creep up on you. I wouldn’t have thought of myself as having a lot of bookmark clutter, but I did. I’ve always been the kind of person who wants to keep things “just in case,” and that’s the dangerous path bookmarking takes you down. I better keep track of this site, just in case. I might need this information someday. Someday when I’ll act on it. Someday when it interests me enough to pursue. Someday when I care enough to do more than file it away.

The Nine Stages of Grief

Stage One: Staring Out the Window

The first stage of grief begins immediately after you realize loved ones have flown up from Florida to be with the dying person. It is a little known fact that when death is anticipated, grief begins before death occurs. This stage involves going to work and acting like everything’s fine, but staring out the window at nothing in particular while doing nothing of consequence at your job. Symptoms include clicking back and forth between tabs on your computer, and continually checking your Facebook to see if any of your family members have posted something new since this morning.

Stage Two: Hysterical Weeping

Because death is anticipated, an overwhelming sense of futility and hopelessness takes over. You want to share your anger with the world, but the only Facebook status you can come up with is “Fuck Cancer” and it doesn’t seem appropriate. Instead you go home to your apartment and hold your phone up in front of your boyfriend so he can read the text message you got from your sister. He needs to hear the news but you can feel the tears pooling inside of you and you know if you tried to explain it with your own voice the message would dissolve into howling.

Weeping begins slowly in the kitchen before moving to the couch. You want to say a lot but your words feel callous because rather than dwelling on your own relationship with the dying man, you’re flooded with a sense of cosmic injustice. There is something objectively terrible about what is happening. He has five kids and a loving wife and the whole family has been through so much already. Each suffered through a divorce. They’ve seen death and abuse and for years there was no light in her eyes until he came along and they only had seven damn months of marriage before cancer came to take it all away again.

Stage Three: Distracting Nostalgia

After an hour of crying you realize that you can’t keep this up all night, and you pick a movie off the shelf that you used to love. It’s a superhero film and it’s more than a decade old. It’s nice to see practical effects for a change but you remembered being more impressed with the film back in high school. When it’s over you put the DVD back in the case and put the case in the box of stuff headed for Goodwill.

Stage Four: Memory Flashes

You ruminate on the last time you saw him, and the time before that. You remember hearing how one doctor said he had no hope, and another said this cancer would never kill him. For some reason you remember that day in stage combat class ten years ago. You were practicing how to safely drag a person across the floor. The teacher told you that as the victim you were supposed to look like you were fighting against it while actually helping your partner calmly pull you to the other corner. Fighting on the outside while internally accepting the inevitable.

Stage Five: Death

You’re at work when you get the message that he’s gone. His wife and kids were there, so were his parents and her parents. You don’t cry this time, but you briefly revert back to Stage One and stare out the window for the next 20 minutes.

Stage Six: Shower Crying

You realize that if you cry in the shower there’s no mess and no one can hear you. Your shower is long and you waste a lot of water and you don’t care.

Stage Seven: Bridezillas

You eat chocolate chips and watch people be awful to each other.

Stage Eight: Sad Cleaning

You ferociously clean your desk and the surrounding areas because at least it’s something you can do. You cleaned the living room just six days ago, so nothing’s actually dirty. You choose to vacuum the same patch of carpet over and over again, imagining that if you do it enough now you won’t have to do it ever again.

Stage Nine: Detachment

You sit down and write down 600 words of how you’re feeling. You put it in the second person in the hopes that maybe it didn’t really happen, and it’s just an abstract idea you once had. No one died today. There’s no 11-year-old girl who just lost her dad. There are no funerals to attend and no phone calls to make. Thanksgiving will be the same as always. There are no empty seats at the table.


My Clean Eating Challenge: Part One

A while back I stumbled upon the most researched, thorough, useful article I believe BuzzFeed has ever published: The Clean Eating Challenge. The concept wasn’t new. It was a diet plan for a two week “detox” that was supposed to make you feel amazing. Normally I am weary of anything claiming to detox you, because that’s what livers are for. I’m also weary of anything suggesting a short-term diet will have long-term effects.

However this particular eating challenge excited me because of it’s completeness. Many diet plans give a list of restrictions or rules with a few suggested recipes. Some offer complete meal plans with no shopping guides, meaning you have to go through each meal individually to figure out what to buy. Other plans list ingredients to buy, but no provision for what to do with the other 3/4 of the jar of sour cream you invariably end up with.

This challenge had it all. There were meals and snacks for every day for 14 days. There were recipes with instructions as well as Pinterest-ready photos of the completed dishes. There were full shopping lists of everything you needed to get at the store, split into two trips you had to make at specific times. They even went so far as to warn you when to take things out of the freezer to defrost, and which meals would be using leftovers from other meals (in case you were considering switching any around). Hell, there was even a list of required kitchen instruments.

Day 1At the time I found it, I was at a bit of a loss nutritionally. I wanted to change my diet but I didn’t know how. And I didn’t know why. Something about it seemed off, like I should be able to have a diet that was more nutritious or that gave me more energy or cost less money or was easier to prepare. I didn’t even know what I was looking for, just that I hadn’t found it. There was something appealing about having zero choice or decision for two solid weeks. I would eat what was on the plan, nothing more, nothing less. I would have to, because I would have a mountain of produce in the fridge that would go bad if I dared stray from the path.

Unfortunately the main appeal of the plan was also its main problem. In order to do it right I needed two uninterrupted weeks. I couldn’t have parties or barbecues or work events that might require me to eat food. I also had to start the plan on a Sunday in order to have lunches I could pack for work while using up the proper leftovers. While there was a provision in the plan for deviations, I couldn’t see how I would make it work without wasting food. And for me, wasting food (and therefore money) was not an option. I looked at my calendar and found a set of weeks about a month away when I could do it. But then things came up. I moved my food challenge dates. It happened again. And again.

Finally I was fed up with pushing it back. I wanted to do this little food experiment and I was never going to do it if I kept waiting for 14 uncomplicated days. I printed out the entire 50 page plan and started combing through it. I figured out that I could skip the first two days and start on Tuesday with only a few minor adjustments. I could, and would, make it work.

The final step in my preparation plan was writing and publishing this post. I’m doing so to guarantee at least some small level of accountability. The challenge starts on September 30th, which means you should see a follow-up post by October 16th, maybe October 20th at the latest.

If you don’t hear anything from me by then, I expect to hear something from you.

The Perfect Pair of Socks

There have been two or three times in my life where I received, as a gift, a pair of fuzzy socks. I don’t just mean fun socks or thick socks, I mean heaven-to-the-touch soft fuzzy goodness. It’s the kind of fabric you want to put up against your cheek like it’s a baby. Happiness in a sock. And I never wore them.

They were too thick to fit into shoes, and I knew that if I wore them by themselves the bottoms would slowly get dirty. The fabric would stretch and they wouldn’t fit so snuggly. The softness would wear off the inside. Eventually they’d develop holes, and I’d lose my delightful socks forever. They wouldn’t be perfect anymore.

I realize that it might sound insane. But I often have this problem with things that I love. I’d rather preserve them than use them. I worry about denting the spine when I read books. I worry about the beater marks on my mixing bowls. I love keeping my possessions in good condition, but sometimes this is to the detriment of my enjoying them. That’s why I never wore those socks.

The epiphany came when I finally got fed up with storing four pairs of fuzzy socks I never wore. I kept moving them from drawer to drawer, always having to find a new hiding place for them. I honestly considered giving them to Goodwill just so I could get them out of the house. They had become clutter. Like any piece of clutter, they were taking up space without being useful.

So I put on a pair.Fuzzy Socks

And they were heavenly.

I began to wear them around the house as slippers. In many ways they were superior to slippers, because I wouldn’t feel the need to kick them off when I snuggled up on the couch or hopped into bed. My feet get so cold so easily, a pair of heavenly soft socks were just what I wanted and needed. They were perfect.

After many enjoyable months I wore holes into the first pair and confidently threw them out after determining that they were beyond repair. And it felt great. Because as silly as it sounds, those socks were a weight on me. Something I had received as a gift but never used. Something that just took up space. And there was no reason. They’re just socks after all.

I’m sure it will be at least another two years before I make my way through the next three pairs of fuzzy socks. But it feels good to see them in use, to know that I’m not just storing them because I can’t fathom throwing out perfectly good socks. Instead I’m using them and making them less than perfect. Which I suppose is the point of all my possessions.

It only took me ten years to figure it out.

Facebook’s Real Name Policy and the Futile Search for Safe Authenticity

I am proud to count a few drag queens and burlesque dancers among my Facebook friends. They are where I first heard the news: Facebook was cracking down on performers who have profiles under their stage names instead of their birth names. Hundreds of people have found themselves locked out of their accounts and unable to tell their friends what has happened. Many don’t even know who their friends are, since performers often know each other by performance names only. The official word from Facebook was that this policy has always been in place, and that it’s there to ensure a safe and authentic community. And that’s a great idea. Or at least it would be if the names on birth certificates were universally safe and authentic.

Celine DionOutside of the drag queens and burlesque dancers, I have a lot of other friends on Facebook who don’t use the name that’s printed on their driver’s license. Some have been using a fake name for years. So this week I asked several of them why they do it.

Some are dancers and musicians who have dived head-first into their stage personas. Their stage names are the names they go by in real life these days, with only family members and their oldest friends still calling them by their birth names. The stage name is not a lie, it’s not a fake. It’s the person they grew up to become. It’s who they are. They just don’t feel the need to have it legally changed.

Others have been the targets of abuse and stalking. Having a fake name is a way to put a layer of security between them and the men/women who would do them harm.

I have one friend who works as a teacher. “I’m sure this sounds really harsh,” she told me, “because most parents are wonderful, and their motives are generally good even when their actions seem questionable.” She’s seen stories of teachers who lost their jobs because of parents digging up things from Facebook that they found problematic. “There are always going to be parents who don’t trust their kids’ teachers enough to let them be who they are.”

One guy I know does it so he can joke around with his friends without worrying that every potential employer might one day read his comments. “I compartmentalize my life basically,” he said. He told me he doesn’t want to be accountable to strangers when joking around with his friends. He’s a funny guy, and any comedian will tell you that you have to know your audience.

As I read the responses from my own friends, as well as the articles online, I realized that safety and authenticity are the reasons almost everyone uses a fake name. If singing on stage means more to you than anything in the world, then the name you give to your singing voice is your authentic self. If allowing personal information to be openly associated with your birth name puts you at risk for threats and violence, then hiding your name is being safe. And if managers and parents aren’t willing to let employees decide how to behave outside of the job, then a fake name may be the only way you’re able to be authentic with friends while remaining safe at work.

Red Cup of WaterAuthenticity doesn’t have a single face. People are multi-faceted, and such complexity can be dangerously misinterpreted. I was one of the earliest adopters of Facebook, a fact that will come back to haunt me one day. I was a college freshman, and back then the things posted on Facebook could only be seen by a select few. This made for a relatively safe and authentic community. It didn’t matter if a friend posted a photo of me holding a red solo cup at a party, because the only people who saw the photo were also at the party. And they all knew I hated alcohol, and that the cup was full of water. My authentic self attended a party, but the photo shows someone else. If I decide that my boss or my mother or my church shouldn’t see that photo, it’s not because I’m hiding myself from them. It’s because I’m trying to tell the truth. I am trying to ensure that my authentic self is the one that gets seen, not the lie that the photo tells.

While creating a community that is both safe and authentic is a laudable goal, it is ultimately impossible for a behemoth like Facebook. It is too vast and too interconnected. No one can stay both authentic and safe when they don’t know who might be looking.

I am not the condensed version of myself I post online. None of us are. And some of us have led lives that are so interesting and painful and complex and dangerous that even our names can lead people astray. They can tell a false story or lead us into danger. None of us knew back in those early years that one day our Facebook profiles would be used to define who we are, just like these performers didn’t know they’d eventually have to out themselves in order to keep in touch with their friends. If any of us had known, we wouldn’t have posted those photos and we wouldn’t have made those jokes. When pulled from their original setting, such things don’t reflect the people we really are. Such things, when attached to a name but not a time or place, are no longer safe or authentic. That’s the terrifying truth of Facebook: had we known that this was what it was going to become, we never would have joined.


If you’d like to share your support for the campaign to end Facebook’s Real Name policy, use the hashtag #MyNameIs.

Planning and Surprises

When you do something for so long that you’re able to teach it to others, sometimes you end up under the mistaken impression that you’ve got it all figured out. Perhaps you know that there are still things to learn, but you certainly don’t think anything will ever surprise you.

Today, something surprised me.

I’ve been reading, practicing, and loving organization and productivity for a long time. I’ve been planning ahead for a long time. I’ve been making lists for a long time. Yet miraculously, today I managed to plan ahead and make a list in a way that made me outstandingly productive, and I never saw it coming.

I’m making a costume to wear to an upcoming convention, and I’d gotten to the point in my planning that it was time to go to the fabric store and buy supplies. I’ve made many costumes over the years, and for some reason every single one required about eight thousand trips to the store because I forgot to get something the last time. And I hate it. It bothers me to no end. I’m wasting time. I’m wasting gas. Most importantly, my costume creation gets brought to a standstill until I can get to the store to buy one more zipper, one more specialty needle, one more tube of fabric paint.

But today? Today I was the Goddess of Organization. Well, technically, I was the Goddess of Organization last night. That’s when I was making my lists and preliminary sketches and decided my shopping list needed a few more details.

Because in addition to forgetting items outright, I often go to the store only half-knowing what I need. It’s not enough to say I need a black zipper, because that doesn’t tell me if I need a 9-inch zipper or a 24-inch zipper. It’s not enough to say I need ribbon, because I can get a three yard spool or a ten yard spoon or I can take it to the counter and buy it by the yard. And I have a terrible habit of deciding how much fabric to purchase by eyeballing it at the cutting counter. I am horrific when it comes to estimating fabric, so I have no clue why I choose to do it so often. None of that nonsense this time, I decided. My list would include every part of the costume, head to toe.

The strange thing was that rather than feeling empowered at the store, it made me uneasy. I was looking at ribbon and I almost put it back down to come back and buy later, just so I didn’t have to decide between the shiny kind or the matte kind. Why? I suppose it’s because normally I forget those little accent things until I’ve already made the piece they’re accenting. By then it’s clear if the matte or shiny will look better. This time I had to choose based on what I hoped my costume would be like, not on something I knew it already was.

Despite my crises in the ribbon aisle, I did feel good when I got to the cash register. The final price was way less than I expected, probably because I didn’t buy twice as much fabric as I needed. I was excited for the weekend, when I’d get to start up on my costume, when I’d have all the supplies at my fingertips.

I got three paragraphs into this post before it hit me. I forgot the damn thread.

A Story About Airplanes and Numbers

I woke up at 6AM. Classes at the high school didn’t really start until just after 7:30AM, but the buses ran early enough to get you there for the half hour study period before homeroom. After pulling myself out of bed I made it to the bathroom and to the old stereo my sister put into our shared bathroom years before. She had graduated the previous spring and moved out a month later, but I still had the stereo.

I turned on the local Top 40, as was my custom. I started to get ready through a song or two, and then I heard the familiar voices of the DJs.

“So the craziest thing happened this morning,” the male DJ said. “There was this plane crash in New York City. Like, some plane accidentally hit a skyscraper.”

Interesting, but not remarkable. Sometimes planes crash. Skyscrapers are tall.

“What’s really crazy is that not long after, a SECOND plane crashed into another building.”

“Really?” inquired the female DJ.

“Yeah,” he said, “And because they were already filming the first crash, they’ve actually got video of the second crash happening. It’s all over the news right now.”

This piqued my interest. I went over to the TV and turned it on. Just like in the movies, it was already playing the news broadcast the DJ just mentioned. No more than 2-3 seconds past before I saw the clip of the second plane hitting the building. I accepted it at face value. The DJ said accident. The news said accident. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but when I look back there was a sinking in my stomach the first time I saw that footage. Deep down I knew. They weren’t careening out of control. The plane was so straight, so sure. They didn’t even swerve. Accidents don’t look like that.

I turned the TV off and continued getting ready. The DJs mentioned it once or twice more. Before I left the house I tapped on my parents’ door to wake them.

“There was a plane crash in New York City,” I told them. “I don’t know where it happened or where Nikki lives, but you might want to call her to check-in.”

My mother gave me a sleepy nod. Yes. She would call my big sister to make sure she was okay.

At the corner I waited with the other kids for the bus. My neighborhood sat directly under the runway paths, and I watched a plane fly by. I smiled. Something about it was funny, watching a plane navigate the air so successfully after two had failed so horribly just an hour before. I told the kids at the bus stop what had happened. The story didn’t seem to interest them.

The radio was off on the bus. It was usually on, but not every day. I considered asking the driver to turn it on so I could hear about the planes, but I didn’t. I rode to school in silence.

Between the bus and the front door of the high school I saw my homeroom algebra teacher walking the opposite direction. “Mr. Andrews, did you hear?” I yelled over to him with a smile. “Some planes crashed in New York, right into the buildings.” He hadn’t heard. We kept walking our separate ways.

I went to the classroom and got out my algebra homework. I figured if the bus insisted on getting me to school a half hour early I’d make the most of it by not finishing my homework the night before. I wasn’t particularly interested in what we were studying, and I didn’t really want to do it. But it was due today.

Students and teachers were in and out of the classrooms as usual, and within minutes someone leaned into our room to let us know there was a TV on in the classroom down the hall. They were watching the news. I abandoned the homework I didn’t want to do and walked down the hall to watch the broadcast. By then it was known. By then it was clear. Another plane had hit the Pentagon. There hadn’t been any accidents.

I went back to my classroom and got out my phone. I called my mother, who didn’t pick up. I left a message asking if she’d gotten ahold of my sister. I didn’t even realize I was scared until I heard the crack in my own voice. I hung up the phone and looked over at Mr. Andrews. He had heard my message, the change in my voice. He heard me ask my mother if my sister was okay. He said nothing, I said nothing. I went back to the other room.

There were about 15 of us sitting in that little room when the South Tower fell. I could hear Roosevelt’s voice in my head on repeat: A Date That Will Live In Infamy. Another plane had crashed into the ground in Pennsylvania. They didn’t know where it had been headed. We were scared. We didn’t know how many planes were still in the air. We didn’t know if it would ever end. On live TV we watched as the second tower fell. Then the bell rang to start the school day.

Nothing happened in homeroom that day. Nothing in second or third period either. Every class started with the same plea to our teachers, “Can we turn on a TV?” By forth period it was clear that the present danger was over, and everything that was going to happen had happened. Still, nothing was getting done. We couldn’t focus, we couldn’t learn. My biology teacher gave us an assignment that didn’t much matter and agreed to leave the radio on. But we talked over it instead. We couldn’t do our work, but we couldn’t keep listening to the same confusion either. At some point I got the message from my mom. Nikki was fine. She didn’t live or work anywhere near the towers. She was still asleep in her apartment in Queens when it all happened.

When I got home from school I turned on the TV. The local ABC and NBC affiliates were playing coverage. So was CBS and FOX. I turned to CNN – a lot of people turned to CNN. It’s hard to remember that there was a time when “24 hour news” was synonymous with CNN and no one else. They were the source. If it was news you knew they’d be talking about it.

But today, everyone was talking about it. I flipped through the channels. Those that didn’t have their own coverage were showing a feed from another news source, usually CNN. I had a printed out piece of paper on the coffee table that I used to track which channel number corresponded to which network. I got out a pencil and started flipping down the line, marking off which channels were playing coverage. Nearly every working station was devoted to 9/11 coverage. I still have that piece of paper in storage at my parents’ house.

I watched the footage until I couldn’t anymore. It was the same facts over and over, the same wreckage and smoke. I needed to see something else. I flipped to Comedy Central, one of the few big channels that wasn’t playing coverage of the attacks. Instead it was some idiotic college movie staring Jeremy Pivens. Probably “PCU” but I can’t remember for sure. I laid on the couch and watched a series of stupid sex and fart jokes. It helped.

I’d been watching the movie for about 20 minutes when my mother came upstairs. She commented on the fact that the movie I was watching seemed stupid. She was right, though I didn’t say anything to agree. She asked if we could change the channel to watch the news. I told her yes and we flipped to CNN. I sat on the couch with her for a few minutes, and then felt the sudden and intense desire to not sit there anymore. I stood up and went into my room, which was directly behind the wall with the TV on it. I sat on my bed. I could still hear the news. I stood up and paced. I went back out into the TV room and into the bathroom. I opened the medicine cabinet. I closed it. I went back to my room. Then back to the bathroom. I’m not sure what happened next, but I think I must have slammed the door or thrown something on the floor, because my mother came over to me with sudden concern.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

I’m not sure what I said. The moment is so fuzzy in my memory and when I think of it my throat gets sore and I feel heat in my head. Somehow I must have told her that I couldn’t watch it anymore. Somehow I told her that I just wanted to watch my stupid movie. I was crying.

My mother ran over to the remote to change the channel back. My mother, it should be noted, knew nothing about how our TV remotes worked. She hit the wrong button and the screen turned to static, then to static with something undetectable on behind it. She kept pushing buttons until I ran over to help. I started pushing other buttons to get it working again, and somehow we ended up on one of the only other channels that wasn’t playing coverage. It was playing bunnies.

It was educational public access, and on the screen was a pair of cartoon rabbits. The narrator explained that they were talking about the Fibonacci Sequence, which neither my mother nor I had heard of. The narrator went on to say that it was first developed to explain the mating habits of rabbits. A third bunny appeared on the screen, then two more. Bunnies making bunnies. My mother and I burst into laughter. We watched as a few more bunnies went by and my tears dried. Mom asked if we should keep watching the bunnies and I told her that was okay, I just wanted to watch my stupid movie.

Later that week I looked up the Fibonacci Sequence online. I wrote down the numbers on a piece of paper: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…

The Fibonacci Sequence is tied to the Golden Ratio, the mathematical quantifier for natural beauty. The spiral of a nautilus shell is mapped by Fibonacci. You find it in the leaves of plants and in the seeds of the sunflower. The sequence goes on forever, each number the sum of the two before. For years after September 11th the list of Fibonacci numbers was taped above my desk. When I was angry or despairing I would repeat the digits silently in my head as a sort of meditative chant. One. One. Two. Three. Five. Eight. Thirteen. I was never able to get past 55 before the mental math overtook the emotion and I found myself feeling better.

There’s a lot I could say about September 11th and the effect it had on our culture, our politics, our media, our lives. But today I just thought I should tell you the story. My story. I am the beginning of several other people’s September 11th stories. I am the beginning of my mother and father’s stories. I am the beginning to the story for the kids at the bus stop. I am the beginning of Mr. Andrews’ story. I heard it on the radio, and they heard it from me. Two planes crashed into buildings in New York City this morning. Isn’t that weird. You’d think they would have swerved.