Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Update on Sugarless Diet

I’ve been meaning to update on my relationship with sugar. I really have. I had lofty goals of sharing delicious sugarless recipes weekly, but obviously that hasn’t happened. Mainly, that hasn’t happened because I’ve been busy - studying education psychology, theories of ESL education, linguistics, and math, mostly. But it also hasn’t happened because I don’t feel like I have many recipes to share.

Most things that we eat for dinner (and then for leftovers for lunch for the following days) are sugarless anyway. I have to avoid anything that has ketchup as an ingredient or barbeque sauce (which makes me really sad). And we can’t eat any store-bought salad dressings, at least not any that I’ve found.

But just to give you an example, here’s what I might eat on a ‘normal’ day:

Breakfast – Sugarless baked oatmeal is my favorite breakfast right now. (We also have a granola recipe that uses Stevia powder that I really like. But I’ve read a few more controversial things about Stevia recently, so I don’t eat that everyday.) And coffee with cream. I haven’t given up on my coffee. But it’s usually half-caff.

Snack – If I’m home, I’ll make a pot of tea, usually decaf Earl Grey, and slowly drink my way through that with a handful of raw almonds. If I’m at work, I usually don’t think to eat a snack.

Lunch – Leftovers. I try to incorporate lots of vegetables into our main dishes and lots of fat. I used to take an apple or other piece of fruit as a side dish for lunch. Now I take vegetables of some kind. Sometimes we have some delicious vegetable dish prepared at home, but sometimes – I’m not going to lie – I just shake about a cup of frozen peas into a container and put that in my lunch bag to heat up at work.

Snack – If I’m home, probably more tea or homemade hot chocolate. No one else seems to like this hot chocolate but me: it’s basically hot milk that I mix cocoa powder into  and then add some hot water. It’s not sweet, but I still like it a lot. Could just be that I’m craving chocolate and will take it any way I can get it. Who knows? Either way, it satisfies me. If I’m home, I may also choose peanut butter on a sourdough English muffin if we have some of those made. If I’m at work, maybe I’ll eat more nuts. Maybe pickles. (I’ve developed a weird pickle fetish in the last month or two.)

Supper – More vegetable-laden mostly-vegetarian dishes. Lots of quinoa recently. And then some kind of vegetable side dish. Sometimes we’re creative and sometimes not.

Dessert/After-supper Snack – No dessert. And I don’t usually get cravings for dessert anymore anyway, except right before my period. Then I really do and I want to cry because I can’t eat a brownie or some gingerbread with real whipped cream. Instead, we might have a snack of homemade popcorn. Or corn chips with salsa or guacamole (if avocados are on sale). Or we might just have a cup of herbal tea.

So, that’s it. That’s what I normally eat. Mark’s diet is a little more American, since he’s a cook and does some of his eating at work. We both figure that this diet is for me anyway, so if he can be supportive at home and not bring Oreos into the house and waft the open bag in front of my nose, then he’s doing his part.

So, that’s all great, and it sounds really healthy, but have I noticed any differences in my health since starting this sugarless diet? The short answer is yes!

I’ve noticed, happily, that my energy levels are much more stable since I’ve been off of sugar. I used to feel a major dive in energy about mid-morning and then especially mid-afternoon. Usually about 3:00 I would begin to feel exhausted and eat a piece of chocolate or two or three conveniently located in a bowl in our office to bring my energy back up. Now I can go all morning and all afternoon without a snack and I don’t notice any shift in energy. (As noted above, I often do eat a little snack, but this has more to do with hunger rumbles in my stomach and an interest in maintaining body weight than it does with a need for energy.) Honestly, it feels great and I didn’t realize that I could feel this great at 3:00 in the afternoon.

I’ve also noticed that I don’t get episodes of the shakes anymore. When I was really hungry I would often get shaking too and mumble to myself, “Oh, it’s just my hypoglycemia acting up again!” And maybe that was true. (Is hypoglycemia something that can go away if you don’t eat sugar? I don’t know.) But I don’t shake anymore. That’s nice.

I also don’t get headaches as often. That’s nice too! I never would have attributed my headaches to sugar or sugar deficiency but now that my body’s not relying on the sugar throughout the day I don’t get the headaches. Lovely.

And the verdict is still tentatively out on this last notable change: my cycles. For the last two years since I went off of birth control my cycles have been about 50-60 days long. NOT NORMAL. And so frustrating to know when you’re trying to conceive that you have roughly about half the chances egg-wise to conceive that a ‘normal’ body has. But, since I’ve stopped eating sugar, my last two cycles have been about 33 days. Big difference! I almost didn’t believe my thermometer the first time my thermal shift happened at day 22 instead of day 45.

Side note – I just read this book called What Alice Forgot about this woman who smacks her head really hard and forgets ten years of her life. She’s 39 but when she wakes up from her concussion she thinks she’s 29 and pregnant. That book really got me thinking about what about my current life would surprise me if I woke up and thought I was 16 again. And I’ve realized – all the biology I’ve voluntarily learned about my body – the cycles, the eggs, the PCOS – that would surprise me. And the fact that I have temperature charting lingo that I use when I blog about my body’s cycles: all that would surprise me too. Maybe disturb me a little.

So, as I was saying, my last two cycles since leaving sugar behind me have been pretty much normal. Could it be coincidence? Maybe. Could I be less stressed? Maybe. Well, no, probably not. And I haven’t changed much else about my lifestyle in the last two months except that I stopped exercising.

Mark and I came to the conclusion that 20 minutes of walking – to and from work – was probably enough exercise for me since I’m barely hanging onto a healthy body weight. So I gave up Jillian Michaels and dumbbells. But I don’t think that would have miraculously sparked normal cycles. That seems kind of counter-intuitive to me. Only time will tell!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Announcement (but not a baby announcement)

So many blog post ideas have come into my brain and then gone out of it again that my brain is starting to feel like airport security. Only my brain is not as effective as airport security because the ideas seem to be coming and going pretty freely.

Mark and I have wanted to move back up to the Twin Cities in Minnesota for a little over a year now. The reason we’ve been so slow to actually make the move, however, is that we only kind of wanted to move. Every time we found ourselves on the verge of making the decision to move back, something would stop us. Friends. A job that I love. An impending and potentially financially stressful mission trip. A church we were excited about being involved in, where we felt that we were seeing God at work in cool ways.

But last August, kind of on a whim (but with Mark’s knowledge and blessing), I applied for a program called Teach For America. If you look at their website for about a minute, you’ll see what they’re all about: giving all children, no matter their socioeconomic background, a good education.

Teach For America (TFA) recruits members (they call them ‘corps members’) and then place the people they recruit in struggling schools around the U.S. The people they place do not need to have teaching licenses at the start of their two-year commitment to TFA but will take classes throughout the two years to get licensed. TFA also provides tons of training and resources before corps members are placed in schools and once they start teaching to help corps members succeed as teachers.

It’s a pretty sweet deal. It’s a sweet deal for the corps members because they get their teaching license and experience at the same time, so they don’t face the same dilemma that recent graduates with a teaching license face. TFA also has a very good reputation, so to be able to put TFA on a resume is pretty nice. It’s also a sweet deal for TFA. Because their reputation is so good and their corps member benefits are so good, they attract a huge crowd of applicants and then they’re free to pick and choose the cream of the crop. It’s a sweet deal for the kids in the schools too. The corps members chosen by TFA are all very driven to see their students excel in school and beat all of the horrible odds that are stacked against them because of the social injustices of our country.

Anyway, you can probably guess where I’m going with this—much to my surprise, when I applied for TFA, I was invited back for a phone interview. I was further surprised to be invited back to a final interview. And I was completely and utterly flabbergasted (how do you like that for a word?) to be offered a position with TFA in the Twin Cities teaching ESL in an elementary classroom starting this fall.

I got this news on January 7, and the next few days were full of conversation and speculation between me and Mark as to what TFA would mean for us, if I were to accept their offer. We came up with a number of effects, both positive and negative, TFA would have on us and our future plans:

1) We would have a good reason to move up to the Twin Cities where

     a. we would be closer to family (see our motivation here)

     b. Mark would hopefully have more opportunities to advance a career in music

     c. we would be closer to college friends

     d. we would be able to cross-country ski in the winter instead of being blown to death by icy gale-force winds

2) I would get my teaching license and be able to teach in a school, which is something I’ve wanted to do pretty much since I graduated from college (yeah, I know, obviously I didn’t think through my college education very clearly when I started).

3) One of our dreams has been to live in the city and minister to the people we by – TFA recommends that you live where your students live and get to know them and their families outside of school. In this case, TFA’s desires were directly in line with desire of our own.

4) I will most likely receive a $4,500 education grant both years that I am a TFA corps member. Since I’ll have to be taking classes to get my teaching license, these grants will probably not help with current loans, but they will also probably prevent us from incurring further education debt.

5) I will be very busy. TFA doesn’t hide the fact that the two years as a TFA corps member are very busy. TFA expects you to give your all to the students you serve. My personality is that of a perfectionist (sigh—not always a good thing for me), so it will be easy for me to fall into giving too much to teaching and too little to Mark. And the other people I love.

6) Because of the reason above and because we’re leaning toward domestic adoption, we will probably not be able to start an adoption until my two years are almost up. That does make me kind of sad. I’ve had my heart set on parenting for two years already and now it will be another two years before we have even the possibility of starting our family. Ouch. Ouchouchouch.

7) However, both Mark and I acknowledge that at the end of my two years with TFA, we will be more financially stable than we are right now. I will have my teaching license and a few years of experience. Mark will hopefully have been able to begin his career in music recording and production. And we will have our school loans almost all paid off, or maybe completely paid off. In my mind, that would be a much healthier environment to start an adoption anyway.

So, all things considered, we came to agreement, and I accepted the position with TFA. I’m so excited about teaching ESL and about moving back up to the Twin Cities.


In order for me to participate in all that TFA offers, like teach, I need to take and pass the MTLE tests, the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examinations. These are tests that those aspiring to teach in Minnesota usually take after having taken certain courses in university. TFA apparently has such a high opinion of its corps members that they assume corps members will be able to study for and pass the exams without having taken the classes.

Usually they’re right, it looks like, with I think around 80-90% of corps members passing the tests on the first try. But that doesn’t assure me, and that’s the reason I was crying over oatmeal on Saturday morning. And that’s the reason I haven’t written any blog posts in the last two weeks. I’ve been tracking down study materials and studying.

I’m sure you’ve all read enough of my blather for one day, so I won’t force you endure descriptions of the tests I need to take or the measures I’m going to studying for them. Maybe another day, but not today.

Suffice it to say, if I can pass these exams in a month, then big changes are coming for me and Mark!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Crying Over Oatmeal

A real honest-to-goodness post will be coming soon. I have not disappeared! But it has just been a crazy and busy last two weeks. And apparently my emotions have not withstood the craziness all that well because I found myself crying over oatmeal this morning. Yes, crying over oatmeal. Because I don't like it but we wanted to use up some steel cut oats in the pantry, and for goodness sake, it's healthy. I should love it! But both Mark and I realized that we probably need to take a chill pill for the craziness tonight in the form of some fun strategy games.

And I promise, when we've got a better hold on the busyness and I'm no longer crying over oatmeal, I will write an informative, worthwhile blog.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Reading Goals for 2013

I read a lot. It’s really my favorite hobby. I know I fit the stereotypical librarian mold, and I’m okay with that. When my hair was longer, I even put it up in a bun sometimes.

I’m still working on my goals for 2013 (which I was share with you sometime soon), but one of the goals I’ve decided on I’m going to share now. I decided that with as much as I read, I should really be more intentional about consuming a well-balanced diet of literature. The most fun genre for me is really young adult literature and what our library calls ‘junior’ literature. Junior literature is chapter books for kids ages 9-12. It’s stuff like Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Matilda by Roald Dahl and The Boxcar Children series and Harry Potter.

Anyway, so I like a lot of young adult and junior literature. I have so many books on my list that are adult literature or nonfiction, and I get to them so slowly. Plus, I’ve been trying to read all the books on our bookshelves at home for the past, oh, year and a half, and I’ve only been sort of disciplined about it.

I normally read about 50-75 books per year, so I set myself a list of 24. I figured that gave me plenty of wiggle room so I wouldn’t feel stifled by goals. Most of these are books that are on my shelves at home but a few are just books I’ve run across in the library.

Let me know if you’ve read any of the books listed and whether you’d recommend them!

Decision-making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View - Gary Friesen & J. Robin Maxson
When God Weeps – Joni Eareckson Tada & Steven Estes
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art – Madeleine L’Engle
Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity – Edward Gilbreath
The Bible Jesus Read – Philip Yancey

½ Price Living: Secrets to Living Well on One Income - Ellie Kay
Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money – Dave Ramsey

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal - Eric Schlosser

Other Non-fiction
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America - Barbara Ehrenreich
The Mind’s Eye - Oliver Sacks
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year - Anne Lamott
Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secrets of a Man's Soul - John Eldredge
The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk: Conforming Deadly Thought Patterns to the Word of God - Shelly Beach
Island of the Colorblind – Oliver Sacks

Surprised by Oxford - Carolyn Weber
Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West - Blaine Harden
Wait No More: One Family’s Amazing Adoption Journey - John Rosati & Kelly Rosati 
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
Strength in What Remains – Tracey Kidder

Left Neglected – Lisa Genova
Saint Maybe – Anne Tyler
The Sword in the Stone – T. H. White
Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

Monday, January 7, 2013

Small Town Life

Since my husband and I moved to this little town in Iowa, I’ve been reminded on occasion that we do live in a small town. It’s a bigger small town than some of the other small towns nearby, but it most definitely is a small town. Mark’s parents and his sister and her family also live in a small town, but it’s a small town right outside of a large city. Many of the people in their community work in the large city. The town that Mark and I live in is interesting because it is entirely self-sufficient.

We have all the things that very small towns typically have: hair salons, local restaurants, gas stations. We have things that small towns sometimes have: a hospital and a number of grocery stores and a Super Walmart (lucky us) library. But we also have a number of things that small towns generally do not have: a golf course, a public school and a Christian school, about 15 churches, and a college. People living in this town don’t need to leave or associate with the outside world unless they want to.

This is the kind of town in which culture can take a side path out of mainstream American culture and no one puts up a fuss and maybe no one notices unless they decided to go to a college or university away from home. For example, in this town children are regularly served hot chili soup with a side dish of cinnamon roll at school for lunch. Soup suppers at schools and churches often serve this combination as well, and the deli in the little mall has a whole day devoted to this combination once a week during the winter. I’ve actually taken to it myself—a slurp of some spicy, salty soup and then a bite of sweet cinnamon roll complement each other nicely.( Once you get past the initial skepticism and try the combination, it stops seeming so strange.) This is also the only place on earth that I’ve lived where a ‘slopping joe’ sandwich is called a ‘tavern.’

Anyway, in a small self-sufficient town like this, the network of relationships can begin to take on the look of a ball of yarn that has been bouncing around freely in the trunk of a car for weeks. Upon discovery, there’s no clear evidence of where the yarn starts or ends, and the idea of sorting it out makes you want to cry or laugh hysterically.

Earlier this week, I called the city utilities company with a question that Mark and I had about out utilities bill. I was put through to a live person in the right department immediately (a definite perk about living in a small town).

“Hello, I have a question about my utilities bill,” I said.

“Alright, what’s your question?”

“I just noticed that the bottom of my bill says ‘auto pay—do not send payment.’ My husband and I were out of the country in October and we had a one-time auto-pay set up then. Last month I sent a check to pay the utilities bill without noticing if it was supposed to be auto-pay. I’m wondering, number one, if we accidentally double-paid last month and, number two, whether the bill is supposed to be auto-pay.”

“Well, do you want auto-pay set up on your account?”

“Yes, if I can keep it as auto-pay, that would be great.”

“Well, you’re all set then. You didn’t double-pay last month and we can keep auto-pay on your account.”

“Excellent! Thank you. Um…. don’t you need my name or account number or something to answer these questions?”

“Oh, no, Hillary! I recognized your voice, and then when you said you’d been out of the country, I put two and two together.”

We both had a good chuckle over that, and then I hung up. I still don’t know who I was talking to.

This recent example of small-town life brings to mind another incident from a year or two ago.

At that time I was still working at our church. Our clothes dryer had died a few days before and we had decided that even though it was an ancient model from the second-hand appliance store in our town, it was still worth getting fixed, or at least looked at. I called our local appliance repair center and asked to have someone come look at our dryer. The girl I talked to said that someone would be along that day or the next to look at it.

A few days passed and no one came to look at the dryer. Finally, about three days later I received a call from the appliance repair store.

“Hello, this is D--- from the appliance repair store. Is this the F---- residence?”

“Oh, yes it is!” I answered.

“Sorry we didn’t send someone by a few days ago. We realized that we didn’t ask you for a phone number, and you’re not in the phone book.”

“Oh, no problem. Will someone be able to come look at our dryer soon?”

“Yeah, I’m planning to come look at it today.”

It was only after I hung up the phone that I began to wonder how the repair center got my phone number, if we weren’t listed in the phone book.

When I went to work that day at church, I told the two ladies working in the church office my puzzling story. When I got done, one of them started chuckling.

She said, “Oh, D----  at the repair center is my cousin! When I was in there yesterday I asked if he’d gotten a call from a Mark or Hillary because you said you were having trouble with your dryer. He said, ‘Well, as a matter of fact, I did, but I don’t have a phone number for them.’ So, I just flipped open my phone and gave him your number!”

See what I mean? Small town life. It’s sometimes strange and stifling, but sometimes it’s oddly helpful.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Pheromone Hypothesis

As I was laying in bed the other night, I was hit with an epiphany. I've wondered, ever since Million came home from Ethiopia why God blessed me with the most adorable boy for a nephew on the face of the earth. Then Shirley came along and I thought, "Wow! The two most adorable children on the face of the earth are related to me!" Then Creedence joined the family, and after meeting him this weekend, I decided it had to be more than mere coincidence that the three most adorable children in the world are my niece and nephews.

Cue the epiphany. 

As I was laying in bed, I began thinking about pheromones. I decided that children must secrete specialized pheromones. I looked up the definition of pheromone the next morning just to make sure I had it right: "pheromone is a secreted or excreted chemical factor that triggers a social response in members of the same species."

I'm pretty sure children secrete love-me pheromones. These love-me pheromones trigger a love and loyalty response in nearby adults. The pheromones act most powerfully on the parents of that child, a little less powerfully on grandparents and aunts and uncles and less powerfully on friends of the parents, and so forth. According to my observations, blood relation plays no part in the effectiveness of these pheromones. Neither my niece nor my nephews have any blood relation to me. 

So, the more closely we as adults are related to a child, the more powerfully their pheromones act on us. We love them more and are more loyal to them because of these pheromones.

You can take the quiz below to see if my pheromone hypothesis is correct.

Pheromone Hypothesis Test

1. In the picture below, you would describe the little boy as:
   a. Kind of cute.
   b. Really cute.
   c. So adorable that you would give your left arm to spend an afternoon with him.

2. In the picture below, you would describe the little girl pictured as:
   a. A little peanut.
   b. An adorable little peanut.
   c. Such an adorable peanut that peanuts are now your favorite food.


3. In the picture below, the infant pictured is:
   a. Your typical one-month-old.
   b. Your typical one-month-old but a little sweeter than average.
   c. Such a delightfully sweet one-month-old that you want to adopt eight one-month-olds in the next week.

To score your pheromone hypothesis quiz:
Give yourself one point for every letter (a) you circled.
Give yourself two points for every letter (b) you circled.
Give yourself three points for every letter (c) you circled.

If your score was:
7-9 - You are probably a close relation of the three children pictured.
5-6 - You probably have some connection to the children pictured but not a close connection.
3-4 - You are probably not related to the children pictured even though you do think they're pretty cute.

And here are just a few more pictures of these three little sweethearts. You'll have to forgive the overload of pictures. It's the pheromones at work: