Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Good Things, Bad Timing

I like:
  • Being healthy
  • Free things
  • Snow
I don't like:
  • Clear nasal passages and an appetite that make me realize just how much I miss sweets
  • Platters full of free cookies and brownies that I'm not supposed to eat
  • Snow when it means I lose a bet
After two days of forgoing sugar I was feeling impressed with my ability to abstain with relative ease. Physically, I was actually feeling pretty under weather with a nasty head cold but was happy to learn that as long as I was sick, all I would be craving was soup, tea, and Ricola. So when I woke up this morning and could breathe in through both my nostrils, I knew this would spell bad news for my sugar-free diet. Sure enough, by 10:30 I was browsing the Internet admiring sumptuous pictures of delectable pies, cupcakes, and cookies.

Ricola, great for sore throats, not for deprived sweet teeth.

My craving grew even stronger after lunch so I resorted to popping Ricolas in my mouth, desperately hoping the natural Swiss herbs would soothe not only my soar throat but also my unsatisfied tummy. The need for sugar was beginning to subside when a co-worker walked in with a plate full of baked goods, informing me there were left-overs from a board meeting and I was welcome to any of it.

And then it started to snow. Now, I owe a colleague lunch.

I won't lie, it's kind of a bummer when timing is off. If I had been sick one more day refusing free brownies would have been a cinch, or if the free goodies had shown up last week I could have stuffed my face full of chocolate to my hearts content. But I learned a few things by missing out today.
  • This one is obvious, but being healthy is always preferable to being sick. Plus, if I can't taste sugar I'd like to taste other yummy things... like a delicious salad with shrimp, tomatoes, cucumber, and avocado.
  • I've been a little envious of my family in New England and all the snow they've been pummeled with this winter. It was wonderful to finally see the fluffy white stuff falling from the sky and collecting on the ground. But more importantly, it's really nice living in a city that doesn't know how to deal with the snow, resulting in a two-hour early dismissal from work for me.
  • Finally, it was hard refusing the free dessert. But it also felt good to stare them in the eye and say (in my head, of course) I don't need you! Kind of liberating, just in a restrictive way. And don't worry I didn't let those free cookies go to waste. I located a Ziploc bag, grabbed five or ten goodies, and shared them with my grandmother, cousins, and their delightful children.

Here's to hoping for a snow day from work tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No sweets for two weeks. I repeat, no sweets for two weeks!

I don’t know if I can make it abundantly clear just how big of a deal this is for me. I’m sure some of you are reading this title and thinking, two weeks? That’s not too bad or not even that hard. A number of you might consider yourselves to have a sweet tooth, and can commiserate with me on the difficulty of forgoing sugar for an extended period of time. But for those of you who know me well, know I don’t have a sweet tooth; I have a mouthful of sweet teeth and every single one of them craves sugar all. the. time.

When it comes to tracing the origins of my addiction to candy and desserts there is no question in my mind from where it derives. Like any good daughter, I lay the blame at the hands of my mother, literally. A great chocolate lover herself, my mother started us out young on the path towards becoming sugar junkies. With four, five, six, and eventually seven kids all under the age of twelve, my mom found that one of the best ways to keep us quiet was by sneaking chocolate chips into our mouths at opportune moments. Whether it was a fussy infant or a restless toddler, it seemed there was nothing chocolate couldn't fix. And in the end it was a win-win situation. People would marvel at my mother’s ability to keep a large brood of children sitting quietly and reverently during church, political events, movies, etc, and we would be happy enjoying our treat.

But sweets were not simply doled out with the hopes of making us behave. My mom loved sweets and loved us- her children- even more. I’m sure it only made sense to her that these two loves should be well acquainted with each other. So instead of milk bottles we drank “chocie,” “mapie,” and “equie” bottles (chocolate, maple, and equal). Ice cream with chocolate sauce was practically a daily staple and Nutella was eaten by the spoonful, rarely with bread, and certainly not on fruit.

So you can see why giving up the likes of ice cream, chocolate, cookies, and cakes would be so difficult for me. And heaven knows I’ll be experiencing withdrawal like symptoms in the days to come. But I’m taking this very seriously and bidding adieu to sugar in all its delectable forms and varieties. Here is just a small sampling of the things I will NOT be consuming in the next two weeks.

  • The four C’s: Candies, cookies, cakes, and chocolates… see ya later!
  • Sugary Spreads: Nutella, peanut butter, and jam….. farvel!
  • Breakfast Desserts: Muffins, pastries, and doughnuts… au revoir!
  • Sweets in Disguise: granola bars, breakfast bars, Luna bars, and sugary cereals… adios!
  • Sweet Drinks: Hot chocolate, chocolate milk, sodas, smoothies…. arrivederci!

The Last Dessert: Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Year of Lent

I’ve always had a hard time getting truly motivated and excited about setting resolutions for the upcoming year. I think there are many facets to this deficit in enthusiasm; one being that a goal with a year-long duration is a rather daunting prospect. So daunting, that I honestly can’t recall looking back at the end of any of my 22 years and definitively being able to check off a goal set 365 days previously. That’s not to say that my years have been devoid of success, accomplishment, and growth. Despite my flighty nature I've managed to set some serious goals and come through on the other side triumphant, even if they weren't recorded on January 1st. But this is a different New Year. This New Year, I’m in a new city leading a new kind of life. For now, school is over. I've entered the “real-world” characterized by 8 hour work days and bi-weekly pay checks. So when I woke up on the morning (or maybe afternoon) of January 1st, it seemed fitting to inaugurate my rite of passage into the adult-working world by truly partaking in the age-old tradition of serious resolution-making.

Which brought me to my second dilemma; how on earth does someone choose just one, two, or even three endeavors to accomplish in a year? I’m pretty sure there are an infinite number of ways I could improve myself and it seemed, once again, overwhelming to narrow it down to one or two things. Initially, I came up with goals that were so broad as to be almost unenforceable. Things like live a healthier lifestyle, be more positive, do good things for other people- all worthy goals but come on, how do you really evaluate whether you’re following through?

This led me to focus in a concrete way on things I knew I should be curtailing: sweet eating, web-surfing, iPod listening to name a few. As the list got longer I started to feel less sure about this whole idea. Sure, I knew I should spend less time with my electronics while mindlessly munching on unhealthy, processed food, but I wasn’t convinced that my life or the world would be vastly improved if I eliminated these things altogether. That’s when I had a small epiphany and realized that part of the value of resolutions was the self-imposed discipline that they gave one the opportunity to experience. It reminded me of the many times I had brainstormed with my Catholic friends about what they would give up for lent. The lists would include the usual suspects- no chocolate, no soda, or maybe no TV. And to be honest, most of the time the ultimate sacrifice would end up being one of those generic options. But as I watched my friends pass those 40 days without their chocolate or coffee fix I admired their will power, devotion, and satisfaction in fulfilling this duty of their faith. This act of “giving up” was less about improving their lives by reducing the number of grams of sugar they consumed and more about committing to something bigger than themselves. That is when the idea came to me; 2011 would be my year of Lent. And instead of picking one or two things to focus on for the entire year I would pick a different food, luxury, or habit to live without for one, two, or three weeks at a time.

I could tell it was the right idea for me by the fact that I got genuinely excited about it. I was excited about the chance to really master some of my “appetites” without having to bid farewell to my indulgences forever. I was also excited about the reflection and thought that I would experience picking a new “Lenten” sacrifice every few weeks. It just felt right- a year of small sacrifices with the potential for learning some big things about myself.

So I’m ready to start! And in classic Catholic fashion, I’m going to start out by giving up all sweets for the next two weeks, Oy Vey! To my friends and anyone else reading this blog, I will really need your help for this year long venture. I have some ideas of what I want to give up in the coming weeks, but I’d be so grateful for your input, suggestions, and insights. And of course, words of encouragement will be critical in helping me follow through on this ambitious goal. I’ve seen many friends go through forty days of traditional Lent and trust me; I have no illusions about this enterprise. I know it won’t be easy and am certain that I won’t be perfect. But, I believe in the value of sacrifice. When we decide to give up something we not only test our own resolve and willpower, but also begin to see our life and choices from a fresh, new perspective.

As I write these words I’m getting more and more excited about this project. I’ve honestly never been so enthusiastic about abstaining from indulgences and guilty pleasures- a feeling I’m sure will diminish all too soon. But I’m comforted and motivated by the words of Henry Ward Beecher: “It is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich.” And since I know that on my modest entry-level government worker salary, I'm not going to end up literally rich (at least not this year) I'm hoping that my ambitious project -- my year of mini-lents -- will be rich in new outlooks, new friends, new stories and maybe new discoveries about just what I do and don't need in life.