The “game-night” stage of adult development

It starts when you and your friends are happily remarking that the bar you’re at seems “chill” rather than “insane” or “crazy.”  Next, you’ll start feeling tired around 11.  Then 10.  You’re on the slide toward actually being an adult.  Don’t worry too much, though, there are a few stops in between taking two shots at last call and lamaze classes.  One of those stops is “game-night,” which is a critical stage in adult development.

“Game-night” consists of inviting a few friends over for food, a beer or two, and a board game.  Try it out once.  Then make it a standing date.  Rotate homes.  I do not think I would have made it from a college-age kid to an adult without this critical stage.  Here are a few quick tips for a successful game-night to help ease you into the slide of adulthood:

1. The key to a successful game-night is planning.  If everyone pitches in just a little bit, you end up with an exciting, indulgent night in.  Last night, for example, our guests brought crackers, cheese, wine & chocolate covered strawberries.  I made a quick chicken & biscuits main dish from pinterest.

2. Keep it small: 5-6 is an ideal number for game-night.  Everyone can hear each other.  Everyone can see the board.  But, it’s enough people to keep the game & conversation interesting.

3. Rotate homes and responsibilities.  Have the host cook the main dish for dinner and have everyone else bring a side or bottle of wine.  That way you end up with an interesting mix.  And with most people focusing on only one side-dish, they’ll frequently put a little bit of extra work into it.

4. Eat a quick dinner and catch up before settling down to play a game.

5. Pick an interesting game that really takes some thought.  Currently, we prefer Settlers of Catan.  Although, get a good sense of your audience…Settlers can get intense.  Yikes.

6.  Get interested in something quirky.  And be extreme about it.  Our group became obsessed with olive oil after reading this story detailing the scandal surrounding the label extra-virgin olive oil.  We now do our game-nights with THE BEST OLIVE OIL ever.  You could pick an odd type of cheese, olive, beer, chocolate, anything.  Pick something small, spend twice as much on it as normal, and feel like you’re having a real treat.

Game-nights are my absolute favorite.  When I first got invited, I thought it might be a little bit lame.  But, if you plan ahead and everyone puts in a little work, you end up with really fun appetizers, and a glass of wine or two.  Because it’s all home-cooked, even though you indulged a little bit, the night cost less than going out and ended up being a lot healthier.  When it’s all over, I go to bed feeling happy, like I did something special and fun, but without feeling unhealthy or financially taxed.

Health journey and 3 pro-tips from around the Internet

My life has been non-stop insane since I graduated college.  Law school at Duke during a long-distance relationship with A made for three years of intense academics and little time for self-care.  After I graduated, I immediately moved to Nebraska and moved in with A.  I spent the summer studying for the Colorado bar exam and learning how to live with a boy.  At the end of the summer, I found a job.  Around the same time that I learned I passed the bar exam, A proposed.  Three weeks later, we learned he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  We quickly went down to the courthouse and got civilly married.  We spent the next year doing the eight rounds of intensive inpatient chemo and traveling for second opinions.  I got admitted to the Nebraska Bar Association.  Then, A decided to take a new job in Texas.  I signed up for the Texas Bar Exam and I started applying to jobs.  We had our wedding.  About an hour into our honeymoon, I was offered a job in Texas and given three weeks to quit my job and move.  We moved.  I started a new job.  We started treatment at MD Anderson, which actually consisted of a bunch more inpatient treatment.  Then I started studying for the Texas bar exam while taking care of A and working full-time.  I took the bar exam in February…and then…wait really?  No crisis?

A is still in treatment, but I finally had a chance to really start achieving my own goals.  As a type-one diabetic, my non-career goals are mostly fitness and health related.  I read the book Born to Run, which inspired me to find joy in working out and then I started running.  Slowly at first.  But using various apps on my phone, I really started to build myself up.  Today, my run mapped out at four miles.  I run in intervals, so I didn’t run 4 miles straight.  I had a total of four minutes walking in the midst of it all.  In addition to running, I’ve also begun to supplement my work-out routine with hot yoga and spin classes.  I started out in horrible shape and have been the type of person who has always thought that my ability to run consistently really maxed out at about a mile or a mile and a half.  The changes came just from getting myself over my fear of trying new things.  “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

None of my accomplishments shortcut my interest in discovering that I could be lazier and eat more sweets, though.  Accordingly, here are some of my favorite little bites of recent health news:

1. Chocolate has some serious health benefits

A few months ago, my boss brought some mini-milk chocolate hershey bars into chambers and set them out for us.  I learned at a conference this past weekend that dark chocolate is good for you if you limit it to this tiny amount.  Of course, these are milk chocolate, but you know.  I was all over that logic, joyously indulging in the mini-milk chocolate hersheys all week.  I knew it wasn’t exactly the same, but hey.  My love of chocolate and indulgent tendencies, therefore, made me a prime target demographic for today’s health headline about the benefits of chocolate.  Apparently the flavanols in cocoa powder have all kinds of potential health benefits including aiding in digestion and lowering cholesterol.  The sad news at the end of the article is that cocoa powder get processed too much to be beneficial in something like a chocolate bar.  But, I’m excited to do some research to see whether or not you might still have some of the benefits in recipes for chocolate desserts that use cocoa powder.  Yes, I know that the negatives of all the other ingredients in a lot of these desserts mean the dessert will probably have a net negative health effect, so I’m not going to go crazy.  But…chocolate and Tory Burch flats are a girl’s best friend.

2. “No pain, no gain” is only true to a certain extent

Okay, I’m not in any danger of overexerting myself to the point where I can’t tell when my muscles are about to just collapse, but I thought this article provided a very interesting description of studies attempting to discern what your muscles are trying to tell you when experience fatigue.

3.  Let’s soak of the sun

For all you treadmill runners out there, I recently read that around 3/4 of Americans are deficient in vitamin d.  In addition to this information, it seems that new studies are coming out all the time linking vitamin d deficiency to some of the top American killers, including heart disease.  I’m the biggest fan of the “sunscreen song,” which I think gives some of the best advice out there, and this vitamin d deficiency is NOT an excuse to skip the sunscreen.  Trust me, you don’t want to get cancer.  If you don’t care about yourself, wear sunscreen for your loved ones.

XOXO,

J

Marriage advice: stop trying so hard

I read those articles all the time.  The articles with five tips for a lasting, successful marriage.  I’ve read the blog posts too, including the one with that cute deceptive title about the man who discovered that “marriage was not for him.”  Spoiler alert: it was for his wife.  Haha.

In the traditional post about making a marriage work, you’re basically given a list of ways to be less selfish and there’s a bit of a moral imperative attached.  You’ll have a successful marriage if you realize it’s about her and not about you.  You’ll have a successful marriage if you bite your tongue more and think before you launch into a criticism.  You’ll have a successful marriage if you publicly brag about your spouse.  But, I think in most of these posts, it’s actually the other way around.  You publicly brag about your spouse if you have a successful marriage.  You make your marriage about your wife if you have a successful marriage.  I know you’re skeptical, but hear me out.

If you’re the type of person that enjoys criticizing others, especially those you love, and enjoys being selfish, then, okay most those blog posts will help you.  Maybe if you read about that, you’ll be enlightened, your eyes will open, and you’ll recognize for the first time that it’s not virtuous to be a jerk to your husband.  But, most of us already know we should be selfless in our marriage.  It’s just that we’re selfish and reading a blog post about it really won’t change that.  We might have a little more self-control for a few weeks, but it won’t change us.

The reason the blog post won’t change us is because most of us are already good people.  Good, imperfect, people.  Most people have needs and wants that they think they shouldn’t have.  Most people have traits they think they shouldn’t have.  Most people are more selfish than they think they should be.  And most people spend most of their lives chastising themselves for their imperfections and trying to hide that from the world, themselves, and their spouse. Maybe they are able to focus on being a better person for a little while and go two weeks without criticizing their spouse when they normally would have.

But, to have a lasting great marriage, I think the better route is actually to become comfortable with all your imperfections. Work to improve them, but if you’re feeling selfish, just admit it. I’ll frequently tell A that I’m having a selfish day and I’m going to buy myself a pair of shoes. Or, I’m feeling needy, could you bring home some flowers and chocolate? Yes, I’m willing to ask for that stuff. You know why? Because we all need some irrational things. And if we can’t get comfortable with that, then we spend all our time dropping hints and having passive-aggressive interactions until our partner “figures it out.” We’re upset that our spouse isn’t spending enough time doing things we like, so we cancel on an activity our spouse likes and so on and so on until we all get things figured out and cater to each other’s needs without having to explicitly mention what that need is. But, maybe, if instead of reading relationship posts about how we can be better people, we decided that we’re generally imperfect, but pretty good people, and we became comfortable enough with our idiosyncratic nature that we were able to just communicate it, then we’d get more of what we needed in relationships and that would, in turn, make us less critical spouses.

Let's be real.  Marriage is no lazy stroll in the park.

Let’s be real. Marriage is no perfect stroll in the park.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t constantly try to be a kinder, better person all the time. That strengthens all of our relationships. But, assuming we’re all good people and we’re generally making efforts to be a kind person, I think the real changes in relationships actually come from tearing down all our ideas of moral perfection, accepting the reality that we aren’t perfect spouses, and then working together to navigate a marriage of two admittedly imperfect souls.  Being able to admit and discuss our flaws helps our spouse cater to our irrational quirks and needs (and opens up the door for them to help us better cater to theirs).  This mutual catering to the irrational needs goes so much farther toward improving a relationship than just trying to deny we have those selfish impulses and chastising ourselves for feeling ways that we recognize aren’t perfectly virtuous.

Rather than trying so hard to improve, we could just work on better explaining our shortcomings.  Anxiety provoking, sure.  But, so much easier.

Skipping out on networking

I should be at a networking event.  I know it’s important to show up to events.  Things happen at events.  You form relationships with people by putting in the time.  Plus, my absence is kinda conspicuous.  But, I’d been fighting the event internally for awhile.  Mid-day I already had a list of invalid excuses, including “I didn’t wear a suit today,” “I’m planning on making a complicated dinner,” “I had to go to the dentist earlier this week, so…”  Finally I just stood up in my office and sighed.  

I’m so tired of feeling guilty about things I should be doing.  There’s always something I should be doing.  Between checking my bloodsugar, budgeting, dealing my insurance, networking, planning my future, and socializing, my brain is constantly checking off lists of things I should be doing.  So, I decided not to go and to take some time to myself this evening to just.do.nothing.  I came home.  I skipped my evening run.  I left the dishes in the sink and didn’t preheat the oven.  I have now been sitting at my desk staring out at the trees with a bag of Chex Mix and a beer for almost an entire hour.  It is horribly amazing.

 

Universe

Universe

Today, as I was writing a massive check to MD Anderson–I mean half of my monthly salary massive–it was nice to remember how small that check really is in the context of the universe. Sometimes it’s nice to remember how small my problems are in the context of the universe, even if, at times, they seem to be my entire universe.

Since Age 9…

IMG_10179231_597910166102_475913_n11651673866278_10151090996715981_262823131_nIMGP1758176794201

I’ve made the same wish at each birthday. But, you can’t just wish for things, you have to help make them happen. That’s why I just joined a new clinical trial to help experiment with artificial pancreas technology & why being awkward and shamelessly trying to raise funds for the American Diabetes Association. I’ve been blessed with the help of so many angels. Click here to support some really freaking promising research.

Leaky eyes

There are some days where I think I’ve completely forgotten that A is in treatment.  Or, at least, I don’t think that that fact is taking up any extra space in my brain.  The day would have rolled out in exactly the same routine if he had never been diagnosed with leukemia.  But, every now and again on one of those days that seems perfectly ordinary, a song or a quote or a news article will immediately release a floodgate of tears.  I find myself crying out tears I didn’t even know were sitting behind my eyes.  And yet there are so many that flow so easily.  Many times, I don’t even understand why I’m crying. It feels like I’m releasing eons of pent-up sadness. That I didn’t even realize was there. Yet, it must have been.

“Do you have a leak in your eye?” A will ask. It might be so.

Snapshots of People

I think it was around middle school when I first started thinking about the fact that I’d only get the chance to experience the world from the perspective of my own brain.  When you really think about how much that limits your understanding of the world, and of others, it’s kinda depressing.  (At the same time, I would never want to observe myself the way someone else might.  My fragile ego appreciates the social norms that force other people to filter their thoughts.)  Although I can’t truly understand anyone else, I’ve spent a lot of time observing people and learning from them the best that I could.  My perspective and descriptions of other people will never be completely accurate because it’s just the picture from my vantage point.  But, learning from others and getting to know the different people that make up the world has really taught me more than anything else.  Because so many people have added so much richness to my life, whether they are privy to the knowledge that they enriched my life or not, my plan is to write a series of posts describing different interactions with different people.  This post will be the first in the series.

 

I had a lot of different thoughts about how to start. The girl I landed on is a bit of an odd choice because my memory about her is brief and I don’t remember her name. I guarantee that she doesn’t remember me. Our interaction was short. And yet, profound. For ease of reference, I will refer to this girl as K.

K is the girl who first taught me about happiness, I mean really taught me about happiness. Before K, I knew plenty of people who were happy. And plenty of people who weren’t happy. Generally, I thought the people I knew who were unhappy had earned that right based on their life circumstances. I considered the happy group to be the lucky group. I did not quite understand that happiness is more cause, less effect. A choice you make, rather than a result. K changed all of that.

I met K under extraordinary circumstances. In fact, she was inpatient in a mental hospital when we met. The week before I met K, her brother had been killed in a drive-by shooting. K, barely a teenager, also happened to be pregnant with her stepfather’s baby. Her mother was kicking her out of the house because of it. K had tried to kill herself a few days before we met. But, when I met K she exuded confidence and hope. It seemed that her suicide attempt and stint in the mental hospital had provided her with a sense of clarity, motivation, and identity. She had all she needed to take her horrible situation and create a life that was her own regardless.

“I don’t understand how you’re so strong,” I remember telling her. “I couldn’t handle everything facing you.” “It’s simple,” she explained to me, “Look outside. The sun is out there shining.” “It’s shining just for me, you know,” she said matter-of-factly. “Now, wanna learn how to do the Crip Walk?” And just like that, she seemed to have discovered how to dismiss her current circumstances. “I just decided that I’m special and lucky and I really don’t care about anything else,” she explained. No more waiting for the world to come and save her. She wasn’t taking any chances on the universe. She lit her torch from the inside. I looked at her in awe. And I resolved to do the same.

Brain change in response to exercise

I never gave much credence to the traditional parental refrain, “if you try it, you’ll like it.”  I always seemed to have a good idea what I liked ahead of time (or maybe I have a lot of cognitive dissonance).  But, this intriguing health piece about exercise in the New York Times suggests that parents have had it right all along, at least when it comes to exercise.  The article details experiments that show individuals have different innate neural expressions in the brain that affect how interested they are in exercising.  To me, the most interesting part was that even individuals who did not have a neural structure that would reward their interest in exercise began developing more mature neurons to provide them with the positive mental reward for the activity.  Maybe this is part of the reason everyone says you have to develop a habit of exercise, and that once you hit that mark, you’ll be able to pick it up more easily.

I passed this information along to my lovely running partner who remarked that she had been excused for 2.5 decades of laziness.  But, not anymore.  If you give exercise a shot, your body will not only adapt to the physical requirements, but may also give you increased emotional rewards to keep you going strong.  I’d read a few other articles that suggested the changes in your brain from exercise help stave off Alzheimer’s.  Awesome.