Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sugar Detox Challenge

In May, I embarked on a 30-day sugar detox challenge.

This is why I need to stop reading things on the internet in the middle of the night. I make life decisions I immediately regret in the light of day.

There are exactly a bajillion blogs out there that have documented their sugar detoxes. They are everywhere. Sort of like sugar is. I apologize in advance for contributing to the overabundance.

As a general rule, I have managed to sidestep most vices. I have never smoked cigarettes. Beer leaves me feeling bloated before buzzed and wine reminds me of going to church, which really kills the vibe. I no longer splurge on shoes. Scratch-off lottery tickets make me anxious.

But one vice has me in its sweet little vice grips. I am a self-diagnosed sugar addict.

I know, I know. Having a sweet tooth isn't the same as being hooked on meth. And yet I ask you: would a healthy, rational person feel compelled to drive to the corner store to buy soda right after a four-mile run because water -- and I quote my internal monologue -- "just wasn't cutting it?" Because that's where I found myself last week: standing at the counter, shooting angry looks at the register's chip reader that was taking way too long to process, cradling my two-liter like a precious newborn.

That can't be good, right?

I needed to do something. I wanted to feel more in control. So I did what every person does when they face a huge personal challenge and uncertainty on how to address it.

Listen. Their graphics are pleasing and their quizzes, while ridiculous, are also intriguing in an absurdist way.

The article's author shared a love of sweet treats that mirrored my own. Most importantly, it had a recipe and meal plan guide that seemed reasonable. So, the night before the start of May, I sat down and scratched out my own plan.

Here’s What I Did

In the spirit of full disclosure, my approach to a sugar detox … wasn’t a 100% complete absolutely not-a-whiff-of-sugar detox. My approach was to avoid any added or refined sugar in my food whenever I could. Here were my personal “rules” for this month:

  • First off, no soda. No diet soda. No reduced-to-ten-calories soda. Nada. I knew this will be my biggest hurdle. Some days, the refreshing sip of a lemon-lime fizzy pop is the only thing that gets me through a long work day.
  • Second, no packaged or processed food that contained sugar or any of its vast pseudonyms.
  • Third, try to avoid carbs like pastas, rices, and breads. (This is a rule that didn’t occur to me at the start but I realized a few days in. If I had known I was cutting out those from the beginning, I might have not had the motivation to try it. But they turned out to be easier to avoid than I anticipated… or feared.)
  • Fourth, foods that have natural sugars in them were allowed, but they had to be foods that had strong health benefits. For example, grapes were fine given their nutrients and fiber. Grape juice was a no-no, since most of those benefits were taken away, leaving just the sweet, sweet nectar of sweet tooth addiction.

That’s right. I gave fruit a pass. I get it. To many of you, I’m a monster. To me, this strategy was justified. My goal with this month-long challenge was to change my habits. I was going for more of a psychological reset than an entirely physical one. In the end, I wanted to make healthier choices with what I eat. Certainly fruit has more health benefits than soda, right? That’s a win in my book.

Here’s What I Ate


That’s pretty much it.

Okay, not really. But I did eat a ton of eggs. Scrambled, poached, hardboiled for on the go. In addition, each week I prepped a big breakfast casserole in my old lasagna pan -- oh, lasagna … sweet, sweet lasagna … how I miss your ruffled noodles and creamy layers. The egg casserole got me through each breakfast and more than a few dinners. There are tons of recipes online but they all break down to the same concept. If you’d like to try a totally non-professional version of a recipe:

Suano's Sugar Detox Breakfast Casserole

  • Ingredients: eggs, veggies, milk, cheese, salt, pepper, olive oil, other things that sound delicious to you with eggs.
  • Pick some veggies that go together, slice them up and saute for a bit in olive oil. One time I did red peppers, onions, carrots, spinach, and wound up throwing in some black beans.
  • Spray your baking dish with some non-stick spray and spread your veggies out.
  • Scramble a bunch of eggs, add a splash of milk and salt and pepper. How many eggs, you ask? Enough to fill up the dish you are using and give you the ratio of eggs to veggies that you want. Don’t worry, if you get the ratio wrong, you are still eating good food. Just make a mental note and adjust for your next batch. Pour the egg mixture into the pan over your veggies. Don’t have enough egg mixture? Scramble up some more and throw them in. Too much egg mixture? Ladle some out and scramble them up for breakfast.
  • If you want, you can add some more savory goodness with sausage or another breakfast meat. I wound up going with Morning Star hot and spicy sausage patties, mostly because that’s what I found in my freezer. Yes, not technically meat, but they give it some savoriness. Crumbled the patties up and sprinkled them throughout the egg mixture. Why not just put them in the dish with the veggies before pouring in the egg mixture, you ask? I have no idea. It just feels right. You do you.
  • Sprinkle some cheese you like on top. This was another discovery: did you know that there is sugar added to shredded cheese, but not listed on blocks of cheese? STRANGE. Must have something to do with preserving the integrity of the shredded pieces. Anyway, grab yourself a block and a box shredder and save yourself some sugar! I added pepper jack to my casserole because a) I was already going for a southwest, spicy sort of theme and b) pepper jack is objectively the best block cheese in the universe.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees because you probably forgot to do that because I forgot to list it as the first step because I’m not a professional recipe writer/editor. Go fold some laundry while you wait.
  • Once the oven is preheated, bake the egg casserole until the jiggle factor is gone. This will depend on the dish you chose. If you’re like me and whipped out that family-style lasagna pan, it’s going to take awhile I think I was around 50 minutes, but just check after 30 and see how you’re doing.

I ate a ton of fruit. This probably means that my sweet tooth hasn’t gone away. Instead it has merely shrunken back into the shadows, waiting thirty days, only to return stronger and more vengeful and more determined to bring destruction to these shores. I did try to avoid bananas, because apparently those things are sugar detox Horcruxes, not to be touched if possible due to their higher carbohydrate levels than other fruits.

That being said, I did not buy anyone telling me that eating bananas was the same thing as eating cake. Yes, bananas are probably the “cake” of the fruit world. But... they’re still fruit. Nothing that comes plucked off a tree can be as bad for you as something that comes poured out of a Betty Crocker box, baked, layered, frosted, and served with candles and ice cream scoops.

I avoided adding any natural sweeteners when I could. No honey, no agave, no stevia. When I wanted something sweet, I stuck to fruit: grapes, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, watermelon, clementines. Mangoes intimidated me but I bet they would have worked too. Sometimes fruit wouldn’t sound appetizing, even when I was hungry for something sweet. In those moments I focused on this perspective: if I’m not hungry enough to eat fruit, then I am probably not really hungry. I’m just craving something (so it isn’t real hunger). Or I’m bored (so go do something). Or I’m stressed out (so go for a run or talk a walk or stop avoiding that task that is stressing me out and just do it already).

Seriously. I ate so many grapes.

Chicken was a common occurrence, which is probably no surprise. My favorite cuisine is Tex Mex, but since I needed to sidestep tortillas I found comfort in taco salads. Chicken seasoned with flavorful spices like cumin, oregano, paprika, and cayenne? Grilled up and sliced over a fresh bed of greens? Drizzled with salsa and cheese? Dolloped with guac and Greek yogurt / cilantro / lime dressing? Perfection.

Okay, so: spaghetti squash. Here’s my opinion on this. Don’t let the name or your vegan friend Karen who grows an organic container garden on the fire escape of her loft apartment fool you: it is not the same as eating spaghetti. The texture of spaghetti squash is sort of crispy, not chewy. The strands are skinnier and pretty much unslurpable. It’s similar to how cauliflower rice doesn’t taste like rice. It tastes like tiny globules of cauliflower. But, if you can get yourself away from that expectation of a perfect substitute, spaghetti squash can play the role of “sauce and topping transporter” of typical pasta dishes pretty well. It’s like my eyes and make-up: it all comes down to how many dollops of mascara and splashes of eyeliner it takes to make them look good.

My go to with spaghetti squash was a hearty tomato sauce. A few months ago I fell in love with this sauce my boyfriend made for us that had italian sausage and ricotta and all sorts of deliciousness mixed into it. This time, I went for a detox-compatible version.

Suano's Cobbled-Together Spaghetti Squash Marinara Mess

Warm up some no-sugar-added tomato sauce as a base. Not as hard to find as I thought it would be! Instead of pre-made italian sausage links, I used Morning Star sausage links. You could make crumbled sausage too, but in addition to being addicted to sugar I am lazy. Chopped the links up and threw them in along with a little crushed garlic, a lot of oregano and basil, some parsley, and a bay leaf. Read a book while the sauce thickened, then removed the sauce from heat and mixed in some ricotta and parmesan. Threw that on top of a pile of spaghetti squash and viola! I had a meal that was delicious, healthy, and hearty enough to avoid any lingering squash taste. One time I even got fancy and melted some fresh mozzarella on top of the dish. (Well, I did it twice. The first time I walked away from the broiler and the cheese was burnt grossness in 10 seconds. Watch it carefully!)

My splurge item? My treat? Triscuits and cheese, you beautiful companions. I adore Wheat Thins, but those bad boys are brimming with sugar, so I used Triscuits when I felt nostalgic for my old Wheat Thin days. Pair that fibrous cracker with some delicious pepper jack cheese and a dollop of guacamole? Heaven. This was my splurge food when I needed to indulge.

So let’s talk about restaurants. Restaurants were tough. Even healthy dishes came drizzled with a honey-balsamic glaze and a side of mashed potatoes -- a starch I did try to avoid -- so I made it work as well as I could by looking for recipes filled with veggies and protein, sauces that could be on the side, and no pasta or bread bases. To be honest, the hardest part was not eating the complimentary bread restaurants often serve. Seriously, they plop that basket of baked dough down before you can even slide into the booth. If I was by myself I would have asked for them to literally take it away but one of my tenets of this experience was to not be a food party pooper (unfortunate choice of phrase) to anyone around me. No one likes that person. I’m not talking about people with legitimate dietary restrictions for health issues, obviously. I’m talking about those vocal few who, because they just discovered this new dietary approach, they now need YOU to conform to it, or at least listen to their sermon about why what you are eating is basically killing you. That person will find their dinner invitations suddenly become scarce and all coworkers dodge them as lunchtime approaches. I did not want to be that person, so the table bread stayed. I just pushed it out of reach … and then sat on my hands.

Here's what I learned.

I did not realize how much sugar I had been eating. Obviously, this is not earth shattering news. I was vaguely aware of the increase of sugar in processed foods, but it hadn’t occurred to me how pervasive it was. Sugar had crept into literally every bite of deliciousness I was stuffing in my face for years, even things that I didn’t think of as sweet. Trying to limit those options really forced me to rethink what I cook and buy and order and eat.

I have way more self control than I ever gave myself credit for. It was not an easy 30-day marathon but I found myself committed to it in a really surprising way. I think that came from the structure and preparation I did. Also, reminding myself that it had an end date certainly helped.

I felt much better in general. Many of the personal accounts of sugar detoxes I had read included horror stories of sugar withdrawal: headaches, dizziness, tiredness. I didn’t experience any of those side effects. My guess is that, since I was allowing myself to eat fruit and dairy products with lactose, my body was still getting regular doses of sugar. Maybe I would have experienced a more powerful transformation if I had cut out all versions of natural sugars, but chances are that I would have quit after three days. For me, keeping natural sugars was worth it as long as the benefits of the food item outweighed the downsides of the sugar. My energy levels grew more consistent. No more 3PM crash and heavy post-lunch eyelids at work. My tummy also felt better. I hadn’t realized how much discomfort I was experiencing in my digestive tract until it started going away. Maybe that was from the increase in fiber from my fruit splurges? Or a benefit of the decrease in gluten since I wound up avoiding most breads and pastas?

About halfway through the detox, I experienced hunger differently. I didn’t feel hungry very often and, when I did, it felt more like real hunger. It’s hard to describe. In the past, when I felt hungry, it was sharp and specific. I was hungry for cookies. Or for toast. Or for cheese. Other foods didn’t sound appetizing. It was also overpowering. I would feel compelled to satisfy that hunger.

During the detox, my hunger changed. It grew quieter and more generalized. Instead of banging on the door, it rang the doorbell. And patiently waited. Hey, it’s me, your hunger. Just wanted to let you know I’m here. Maybe consider eating something that you think is good. Also, here’s your newspaper, I picked it up from the end of your driveway. Make sure to recycle it. When I was hungry, I was more in control of what I should it. It was a practical, measured decision, not an emotional, rash one.

It takes time and planning and work to eat this way. I knew fighting off the cravings and being disciplined would take some effort, but I had not realized that a big reason I was eating the way I had been was because it’s simply more convenient. Processed food seems cheaper, easier to find, easier to store, easier to prepare, easier to transport. It’s just easier all around. Avoiding food I didn’t want wasn’t as difficult as seeking out the food that I actually did want.

Here’s what I recommend.

Thinking about trying your own 30-day challenge? Here is my advice: remember that you do not have to follow anyone’s advice. Even mine. Seriously, people are weird about food. I don’t know why so many people have such strong opinions about what other people shove into their food hole, but they do and they are adamant about sharing them. Maybe it’s because we are all in a desperate race to postpone death even though it is inevitable? Maybe they’re just trying to be helpful? Maybe they like to think they are 100% right and any differing opinion challenges their nutritional belief system? Who knows? Just keep in mind that if people find out that you are trying a new way of eating, many of them are going to give their two cents about it. Just smile, take the advice that makes sense to you, and silently discard the rest. Listen to yourself and pay attention to what resonates and what doesn’t. (You will know when you are avoiding advice because it’s good but hard and when you’re avoiding advice when it’s weird and impractical. Keep the former. Throw out the latter.)

If you're in the market for some more advice that you can totally not follow if you don't like it:

Take a few days to prep. Don’t start this thing at 2PM on a Tuesday. Look up recipes. Go through your fridge and pantry to stash or trash food items you shouldn’t eat. Go to the supermarket and read labels before buying. Even if you don’t like planning food, at least ruminate enough to figure out what you want to eat for the first week. Pick out two to three breakfast, lunch and dinner options and have them handy.

Figure out a goal that makes sense for you. What is a challenge that would be tough but doable? What is something you know you can’t maintain for a whole month? Don’t sell yourself short, but don’t build yourself a house of cards either. Keeping it simple makes it easier to keep going. My thing was soft drinks and sugary treats. I knew I could cut those out with some discipline. But natural sugar? I knew I was going to need those grapes. Cutting out fruit didn’t make sense to me, so I didn’t. Cutting out carbs? I hadn’t thought about it, but I gave it a try and made it work.

Seriously, give it a try! I couldn’t keep it up for my entire life, but I found that my month was done I didn’t entirely backslide. I kept some of the recipes. When I feel sick after eating I notice that it’s often because I’ve eaten too much sugar, so I’m reducing it more without stressing about it. Definitely worth the 30 days of self-control. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Balderdash (Reprise)

After the scatological epiphany of 2013, I thought I had my verbal foibles under control. I was doing so well. Four years. Four years running.

Then this happened.

G: I think they're gonna use the whole kit and caboodle.

Me: That's such a weird phrase.

G: It is.

Me: What do cats have to do with anything?

G: **slow blink **

Just when I let my guard down. At least it wasn't as bad as using scatological in work meetings for years on end. Still, the realization that something I had assumed to be correct for so long was so obviously wrong? Not again.

We have these moments in our relationship a lot, where G discovers things that I don't know. He gets this distinct look in his eyes. A particular cocktail of emotion. Deep disbelief with just a splash of pity.

I see it a lot. Case in point: February 2, 2017.

We all remember the tale of Groundhog Day, right? It takes place somewhere in Pennsylvania, a town with a name that is impossible to spell but we are pretty sure has an x somewhere in it. In the early morning hours, a groundhog will totter out of his groundhog home, He will take a look around, see his shadow, and either a) freak out or b) just see his shadow, as he sees it literally every other day. Depending on his startle status, the universe will either persist in its onslaught of wintry mix or will bestow upon the earth the warm embrace of spring.

Okay. So. I always knew the whole ground-rodent-will-predict-weather part was a farce, However, it wasn't until this past week that I discovered how deep the lies ran. I figured that, at some point, there was a groundhog who came out of his wintry home in the wee hours and the tenants of the town waited behind blockades with bated breath, observing his behavior through binoculars and determining whether he was, in fact, scared of his own shadow. The weather? Sure, they can't control. But they at least bring to bear the aspects of the tradition that can actually happen, right?


Last week G and I celebrated Groundhog Day with Chinese takeout and a screening of the 1993 film starring Bill Murray. Over and over again, the film showed Bill Murray's character reliving February 2 and begins at Gobbler's Knob. A crowd surrounded a raised platform where men dressed in top hats and overcoats reached into a stump, pulled out a groundhog, and pretended to listen to whisperings from the rodent before announcing the shadow-startle-status-slash-weather-forecast

I get that a formal ceremony is warranted. But how did the groundhog even see his shadow amidst the camera flashes?  And of course he's going to be spooked in this moment. He just woke up, got grabbed by the scruff, and held up like Simba in The Lion King to a mass of strangers, cheering and chatting and drinking. I just assumed that, earlier in the day, a quieter ritual took place where the groundhog actually emerged and his level of fear was assessed.

I just assumed that the film wasn't showing us the actual shadow-spotting aspect of the day. That must take place in the wee hours of the morning, quiet and observant. Like those nature documentaries on PBS I always flipped by on my way to Eureka's Castle.

After Murray's third replay of February 2, I had some questions...

Actual(ish) Transcript
Date: February 2, 2017

M: So where does the groundhog part happen?

G; It's at Gobbler's Knob.

Me: No, like the actual shadow spotting. Like where the groundhog comes out of its burrow and they try to tell if he's scared or not.

G: What are you talking about?

Me: You know. The whole shadow-scare-leads-to-weather thing. 

G: Oh that's not real.

Me: Of course I get that it's not real. But, like, when does it actually happen?

G: When does what happen?

Me: The groundhog comes out of its home.

G: That part? We just saw it.

Me: Well t can't live in that stump, that's in the middle of town. He's gotta live somewhere else. What about the other time when he comes out? Where they tell if he's scared of his shadow?

G: I'm confused. They just did it the shadow prediction part.

Me: No they didn't. They just yanked him out of that stump. How could they tell if he even saw his shadow, let alone if it spooked him? There must be something that happens beforehand where he comes out on his own and they see if he runs or not. Maybe there's like a snowy hill where he normally lives.

G: .... you think ... there's an actual point where they actually try to see if the groundhog is scared of his shadow? Like, they hide and watch?

Me: Yeah.

G: I don't think that happens. It's just a funny tradition about the weather.

Me: Of course, the weather prediction isn't true. But the groundhog part is true.

G: Yes, there is a groundhog...that's true. But none of the rest of it happens.It's just a show.

Me: What?

G: They just make it up.

Me: They make what up?

G: Whether or not his shadow scared him.

Me: Yeah, they obviously can't KNOW if it scared him. 

G: What I'm saying is that they never actually let the groundhog walk out and see his shadow. It's just a story. 

Me: .... but...

G: This ceremony at Gobbler's Knob is it. That bit where those top hat guys pretended to listen to the groundhog? That's where they "find out" if he was scared of the shadow. 

Me: ...

G: You thought that the groundhog actually comes out and sees his shadow?

Me: Yes. Because that's what they SAY they do.

G: It's just a story. I didn't realize you didn't know that.

Me: ....

G: Babe? 

Me: ....

G: You okay?

Me: I feel empty.

G: *hands me another egg roll*

Final fun fact: did you know woodchucks and groundhogs are the same creatures? Another thing I had never heard before. I swear I paid attention in school.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Backwards Day

Happy Backwards Day!

Yes, January 31st marks the famous holiday Backwards Day. What's that you say? You don't know about this holiday?

Okay, so not all holidays are winners. There are 365 -- sometimes 366 -- days a year. We are going to run into some filler holidays here and there. This is definitely one of them. Even the instructions on how to celebrate it, found on, are clearly reaching:

"Go to bed in the morning and start working in the evening ... Talk to people with your back toward them ... Say goodbye to people when you meet them, and hello when you depart."

Look, you're going to spend half of your day explaining to everyone why you are dressing like Kriss Kross and talking in gibberish. This may be a good holiday to leave unobserved. Plus, a lot about the world right now feels backward and turned all around. No need to give people another reason to think the world has gone crazy.

The holiday did remind me of an old diary entry I wrote as a child. I've kept a journal on and off for years. Sometimes I write faithfully every day. Other times the journal sits untouched for months. My favorite part about journaling -- besides documenting my socially awkward interactions and keeping a running list of my enemies -- is going back and reading it years later. If you ever want evidence that you have grown as a person, and yet you are exactly the same, go back and read something you wrote as a nine-year-old. From then until now, my journals have consistently been frenetic. Jumping from a daily rundown of what happened at home... to a rant of anger about something or someone who wronged me ...  to a cataloging of my favorite things. (Then: stuffed animals. Now: one-pot recipes.) At nine or thirty-three, the same lack of discipline and focus is there. It's the only place where I enjoy a lack of structure.

Anyway, back to Backwards Day. A few months ago I found my very first diary and thoroughly enjoyed how ridiculous I sounded. It seems fitting to share on this holiday. To give you the full impact, here is a picture of it. I feel like the visual really adds to the entry.

In case you can't decipher my scrawled, penciled handwriting -- and believe me, this is one of my better efforts -- here is a translation:

Dec 21, 1992

Dear Diary,

Hi! Guess What! I'm off for vacation! I get 2 weeks of no school! Not that I have anything against school, but enough is ENOUGH!

We're having Christmas at our house. I got Anna a E C A L K C E N and a G N I R. The G N I R has a jewel in it, and so does the E C A L K C E N. I wonder what I got? 

Were going to see Aladdin! It's suposed [sic] to be great!


That's right. Just in case my sister tried to snoop in my diary to figure out what she was getting for Christmas, I had a foolproof plan: WRITE IT IN CODE. There's now way she's cracking this one. It's indecipherable.

If only this entry had fallen on January 31, 1992 ... That would have been so perfect!

Final fun fact: penguins can't walk backward. Again, in 2017, continue to be the penguin. No backsliding.

Happy Backwards Day!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Be the Penguin

Guess what, everybody? Today is Penguin Awareness Day.

Put on your tuxedo and waddle on down to your nearest iceberg because today is all about your favorite non-flying fowl.

I feel I need to give this holiday some credit. Penguin Awareness Day? Mission. Accomplished. They are everywhere. In our movies… on t-shirts and keychains … in boxes of stuffed animals that our parents demanded we take with us the last time we were home for Thanksgiving because -- and I quote -- “You have a basement. You need to take this crap with you.”

When you think about it, it’s pretty impressive that penguins have been granted this level of cuddliness in pop culture. Birds are traditionally not thought of as huggable, snuggly, or cute. Cartoon birds? Sure, Tweety has his charm. But actual birds? With their beady eyes, sharp beaks, scaly feet, and skittish attitude? They’re hiding something. And it doesn't seem good.

The penguin is one of the rare exceptions. He’s got formal wear! She waddles! Anything that perfectly dressed and perfectly awkward is immediately adorable.

And when waddling won’t get the job done, they just tip over onto their bellies and slide. Imagine cruising down your workplace corridor toward the copier with this kind of action.

Even with these adorkable advantages, penguins are in a tough spot. It has to be lonely to be a penguin in the bird family, not being able to fly. Emus and ostriches can’t fly either, but they have height and speed on their side. Penguins, even emperor penguins, don’t get that tall, and they certainly aren’t breaking any land speed records.And don't even get me started on peacocks.

Penguins are outsiders in their own family, destined to look at the sky and never sail across it. It would have been easy to sit down on their ice float -- or tropical beach since apparently penguins live everywhere except the north pole -- and give up. Get depressed, Feel alone, not a part of anything. Always separate.

That’s now what penguins did. They took a tough situation and made it work. They accomplished the impossible. They are birds that swim, for crying out loud. All of those feathered cousins, soaring through the sky? Enjoy your flapping. Penguins decided to dive.

I’m sure they failed the first few hundred times they tried. It wasn’t like they had those foam kickboards I see three-year-olds clinging to during swim lessons at the YMCA. And they probably didn’t hear too many words of encouragement from their brethren in the air. I mean, take a listen. Does this inspire you with confidence?

Sounds more like a taunt than a cheer, eh? Crows are such jerks.

Despite these jeers from high above, penguins stuck with it. They didn’t cry into their feathers. Okay, maybe they had a few nights of wing-weeping. But eventually, they brushed themselves off, They stopped looking above them at the clouds, pining for what could never be. Instead, they looked around them and decided to do something about it. Something new. They took wings and made them flippers. They took feet and made them, well, more flippers. They developed a taste for raw squid, possibly the most impressive feat of them all. And eventually, through determination, grit, and more than a few ungraceful swan dives, they mastered a world they had no business being in. Think about it: some penguins spend more than three-quarters of their lives in water, a place where they can’t breathe. Can you imagine holding your breath for 75% of your life? I can barely hold it long enough to get in and out of a port-o-potty at a music festival on the third day. But they made it happen. They did the impossible.

In reality, Penguin Awareness Day was created to increase understanding of the endangerment of these funny fowl. We need to keep them around, if only for the fact that they can remind us that hey, things can get better. It would be nice to fly but, without it, their lives opened up to an entire they never knew existed.

Plus, looking at pictures of baby penguins is a certified cure for the Friday gloomy blues. Try it.

See how good that feels? Let's keep that good feeling going. Happy January 20, 2017 everybody!

Friday, January 13, 2017


Big news. I think I've figured out how to actually follow through on these good intentions.

Friends and internet creepers alike, may I introduce you to my little friend.


A quick primer: bullet journaling is a way to create your own planner, personalized to your needs. It also incorporates important events and memories, so it captures more of your life than just tasks you need to do and appointments you have to attend. Unlike a monthly planner, it isn’t preformatted. You have to create the structure. The "bullet" part of bullet journaling comes from the fact that you set up different symbols for different things. A box or a bullet can be a task to do. A triangle or circle can be an appointment. A heart can be an anniversary or memory. When you finish items, you fill in or cross out the shape. You set your own key. If you don't get something done, you just "migrate" it to another page and indicate that it was moved with an arrow. That way, you can quickly scan what is done, what has to get done, and also what things you keep putting off.

So here’s the thing. I’ve heard about bullet journaling in the past. If you are on Pinterest or have OCD, I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of them. The internet is littered with jpegs and pngs of perfectly crafted pages. After you stare at them for too long, it seems a little bit like OCD wrought out on graph paper. When I searched for examples online, I was immediately overwhelmed by the level of detail and skill these people put into something that you have to create over and over.

Here is an example from the popular bullet blogger Boho Berry:

It’s very detailed, very pleasing, and very intimidating.

Good for you if you can doodle in pen effortlessly and write clearly and confidently in an assortment of fonts. I'm grateful you exist in the world so I can scroll through online images of your creations like a type of organizational porn. They are a joy to look. They are also impossible to comprehend recreating in my own life, every day. I mean, this entry has the weather forecast written in. Isn't that going to change like, I don't know, the weather?

Think about the supplies it would take to keep this up. And, if your brain is unable to imagine that, here is an example from KM Bezner:

Despite hating my handwriting -- it looks a fourth-grader writing with a crayon while sitting in the back seat of a car being driven down a gravel road -- I enjoy the act of writing. It's how I remember things. The limit of a line or a page forces me to really think about what I want to write, instead of mindlessly typing. It's different than typing a to-do list on my phone's notepad. I have about thirty lists on my phone which I’ve interact with a total of one time, when I first tapped them in. I almost never go back to it. I just keep typing new lists with one bullet and forgetting them. But lists I write by hand? Those I always go back to.

Based on this, you would think I would be a prime candidate for bullet journaling. I've considered trying this bullet journaling for a while, but amid the dizzying swirls and block letters and doodles and “Live a Perfect Ten” word clouds, I could never grasp the actual logic. I looked at dozens of examples of how people organized their bullet journals and still left staring a bit dazed, not sure where to start.

My turning point was last month. I came across an amazing post from a blogger who explained *how* and *why* she structured her bullet journal.. It was like everything came into focus.

First of all, it's written by a blogger who calls herself the Lazy Genius. This is my kind of person.

Secondly, this guide? It. Makes. Sense.

Thirdly, the author's intention for her bullet journal is exactly like mine: this is an organization system and a log of important things and thoughts. It does not have to be an artistic masterpiece. I prescribe the same goal to my bullet journal's appearance that I do every day to my own: look decent and interesting, stop when you hit an hour.

My favorite part about this guide is that the author speaks from experience. She's tried doing it in the past and stopped, then tried again. Through those journaling missteps she has figured out what works and what doesn't work. The guide is not just an explanation of what a bullet journal is. It is also a guide about how how to think through what you want your bullet journal to be. The overarching mantra? Keep it simple and easy.

Armed with this new knowledge, I picked up the Cadillac of journals for bullet journaling -- the Leuchtturm 1917. The best things about it is that it has little dots in the shape of squares on each page which makes drawing and writing in line much easier. It *is* a little pricey for what is pretty much a blank notebook, but remember. You can do a bullet journal with literally any type of notebook. You can even try it out with an old notebook from college days to see you like it.

I named it BuJo because, well, think about the alternative with just initials. (I have since learned that BuJo is a common abbreviation for bullet journaling. So much for being creative.) BuJo is a sunny yellow, a bright color I figured would both cheer me up and be so garish I was less likely to leave it on a coffee shop table or bus seat.

When it arrived, I definitely felt a bit of panic staring at the swath of blank pages. Well, crap. This would be so much easier with a planner and it's pre-set structure. This is part of the challenge, I suppose. I have to make choices. To this day, when I start a new page, I feel a flash of this same anxiety. I have zero talent for doodling and for some reason I always wind up way left when I try to center text. Writing anything in pen feels unsettlingly permanent because, well, they are. For my first few pages, I sketched out my design in pencil first, then traced over everything with pen. It's not a bad way to start. Just make sure you have a good eraser. After a few weeks of practice my doodle confidence has grown and now I’m freehanding it.

I decided to focus my bullet journal mostly on personal things. It can certainly be used for work, but I already have a good system of staying on top of work tasks. What I really lack is thinking about things outside of my job. By keeping my bullet journal pretty much non-work, I spend more time thinking about my existence outside my office door.

One of the best parts about the lack of pre-set structure is that it is adaptable. I don't have to worry about running out of pages for a particular collection or list. It doesn't matter that I didn't think to make a collection of crock pot recipes to try until seven months in. (Ooo, that's a good idea. *jots down in Bujo*) I can add it to the next blank page whenever inspiration strikes and make a note of it in my index. What if i happen to meet a crock pot recipe guru on the bus next week and I have to many ideas to fit on a page? No problem. I go to the next free page, continue the list, and make a note about which page to jump to. (This is called "threading" and a more detailed description of it is in the article I linked to. In my experience threading is the thing that pushes people past any trepidation of trying out a bullet journal. No worries about running out of room!)

Here's a quick tour of BuJo:

Hey, good looking. Check out those clean lines and that sweet, sweet color.

Next: my index...

As you can see, I have collections (basically ongoing lists) for a running log, craft projects to complete, date ideas, gift ideas, writing ideas, and movies / books / television I’ve completed. So far I'm using them all regularly except the running log, which boasts a rousing tally of two whole miles in 2017.

After a future log -- a holding pen for future dates and things you need to add at some point -- I have a two-page spread for January, along with my habit tracker for the month. Each month I start with a list of dates for the month, and a habit tracker.

This is especially true with the habit tracker, which is hands down my favorite part of BuJo. I have no idea why being able to fill in a box each day is so satisfying that I can get myself to do things that I otherwise wouldn't be motivated to do. Like doing dishes. What magical power does that little square on a piece of paper hold that it is powerful enough to get me to do something I absolutely hate? Or eating oatmeal. I actually like baked oatmeal. But the structure of being able to fill in (or not getting to fill in) a box keeps my motivation and accountability alive and kicking.

Even this blog post is a direct result of BuJo. I struggling this week to get myself to sit down in front of a computer…. but that little rectangle for “Blog Writing” ... nagging me ... taunting me every time I saw it. And I can’t wait to color it in. So here we are, in this weird snake-eats-tail blog post about how my BuJo got me to write a blog post.

I'm telling you: if you like lists and are motivated by filling in little shapes each day to mark your accomplishments, try bullet journaling. And let me know how it goes!

Okay, off to fill in my habit tracker for blogging. So, so satisfying.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Hey, 2017... How YOU Doin'


2016 was a dumpster fire of a year, wasn't it?

I hope your past year was filled with joyous occasions, personal victories over great challenges, and ordering new items at restaurants that did not fill you with regret about not just picking the dish you normally get. I'm still kicking myself over a salad-over-sandwich choice at Panera from two months ago.
If 2016 wasn't brimming with these wonderful things, I hope you are starting 2017 with a sigh of relief.

My apologies for being absent all of last year. For some reason, I couldn't figure out much to write that seemed worth anyone’s time to read. But never fear. I am over that frustration and  I am going to write more this year.  Even if it is boring and short and totally not worth your time. It’s happening. GET PUMPED FOR MEDIOCRITY.

In fact, writing more is one of my intentions for the new year. That's right: intentions. Not resolutions. I rarely resolve. Too much pressure. However, I *intend* with abandon. Thus, Tearing Toast is proud to present Suano's Intentions of 2017

  • Write more. I had originally planned to make this more specific, requiring one post a week. For now, I'm keeping it vague. If one post a week works out, all the better!)
  • Drink more water. This intention derives directly from the fact that I am currently in an office that is located directly across the hall from the bathroom. Fun fact: I also now know the digestive patterns of all of my coworkers.
  • Keep up my regular journaling. I started this last year. I had hoped that this would lead to more blog posts. In practice, my personal journal is a collection of rants and pettiness and grudges. Despite not working out for blog posts, it’s been cathartic so I want to keep it up. Plus, you never want to lose track of your enemies.
  • Eat more oatmeal. Given my disdain for lumpy, icky textures, this maybe the hardest intention to do.
  • Go to sleep with no dirty dishes in the sink. I can already see myself twisting this one around. Well, if the dirty dishes are on the COUNTER, they aren't technically in the sink...
  • Do 15 minutes of cleaning each day. Supposedly this can lead to maintaining a spic-and-span household without marathon cleaning sessions.
  • Run 365 miles this year. I will get to this once the weather in my town warms up to sub-zero wind chill, hopefully before April.

I think I have about a 30% chance of actually living out these intentions, which is fine. Again, how much less damaging to one's psyche is it to fail at an intention, as opposed to a resolution? If thinking about setting resolutions make your stomach churn, try framing them as intentions. I'm telling you, it works. Me and my calm digestive system can attest to that.

What things do you want to intend for your 2017? Let's make this the best year yet!1

1 Explanation: I've been watching a lot of YouTube videos lately and keep seeing those Weight Watchers commercials with Oprah fist pumping over pasta and power walking her dogs. A side effect has been an invasion of my internal monologue by intense optimism. I'm sure it will go away eventually.