Pain-Free Coffee Detox

WP_20151007_07_58_23_Pro Ever since my daughter, affectionately known as The Amazing Non-Sleeping Baby, entered the world, I’ve started my day with coffee. Although I love the stuff, especially now that we live in the land of Stumptown, it doesn’t love me. Between tension headaches, insomnia, and lactose intolerance, I can’t enjoy the coffee without some pretty serious side effects.

So I decided to start the new year with a big old detox, Whole30 style. One catch, though. Recent studies showed the risk of heart-disease increased because of Ibuprofen (which I take like candy when I’m in the throes of the tension headache/insomnia/overcaffeinating cycle) made me want to add Vitamin I to the detox list too. And with a writing deadline looming, I really couldn’t afford to have all fifteen of these nasty caffeine withdrawal symptoms for two weeks while I let my body adjust to the lack of caffeine.

If you’re looking for information on why caffeine is bad for you, read this Forbes article that summarizes a John Hopkins report about how caffeine affects cognitive function or this article on caffeine withdrawal being reclassified as a mental disorder. I fall into the category described in this Mayo Clinic article as “caffeine sensitive,” so I get the jitters and can’t sleep with a much lower dose of caffeine than some people. I estimate my daily consumption (which varied based on whether I drank espresso or press-pot, and whether my pot of tea was green or black tea) to be in the 170-220mg per day range. Safe according to Mayo Clinic, but not working for me personally.

There are oodles of plans out there from stopping cold-turkey (which I’ve tried before and found really painful) to step-down plans that take three weeks to wean the body off of caffeine. Yeah, I’m too impatient for that. So I basically did a 7-day plan based off of the detox steps outlined here. And I promise you, it works! I’m now on day 3 with zero caffeine AND zero headaches. Note that I am downing tons of water, taking a multi-vitamin, as well as taking L-Tyrosine and DLPA amino-acid supplements for mental clarity and alertness, which I believe helped me with the detox.

Here’s what it looked like for me:

New Year’s Day – Coffee. Because champagne and staying up til midnight the night before. Duh!

January 2 – One cup of coffee (instead of the two, plus an afternoon pot of tea I usually drink) in the morning.

January 3 – No coffee, but started the morning with black tea. At this point, I didn’t really notice a difference.

January 4 – Started the morning with a pot of green tea (only one tea bag). Felt a little sluggish, to be honest.

January 5 – Repeated previous day since I didn’t feel great the previous day. Glad I did because I went to the dentist that day, which always gives me a massive headache.

January 6 – Waited until lunch to have a pot of tea. For me, the two signs of physical dependence on caffeine I have are being fuzzy-headed in the morning and having an energy slump in the afternoon. So I thought I would tackle the morning fuzzy-headedness first by making myself start my day with no caffeine.

January 7 – Waited until lunch and had a pot of tea. I had a busy, out-of-the-house day planned, so I couldn’t afford a major afternoon slump.

January 8 – Waited until lunch, had a kombucha. FELL ASLEEP FOR 20 MINUTES AT 11am. I consider this the biggest fail of the detox because I was supposed to be working, not napping. But overall, not bad.

January 9 – present – Caffeine free. *confetti cannon*

I’m alert, head-ache free, and getting productive work done this week so far. Oh, and I haven’t murdered anyone in my immediate family. So I’d call that a success, wouldn’t you?

To be honest, I’m not sure if I’ll stay off of caffeine for the rest of my days. But for at least the next month, I plan to. After that, I may go back to green tea in moderation, but I think my coffee-drinking days are going to be extremely limited. Sorry, Stumptown!

Screen-time Detox and Other Goals

I’m not big on resolutions because I’ve usually forgotten them long before I reach the end of the year. But I am big on starting new habits at special times (the first of the month, the first of the week, the first of the year, the first of the season) because then it’s easier to say “I’ve been doing it for x weeks/months” and keep plowing onward.

So we’re doing a variety of what I’m calling detoxes to start the New Year. Some as individuals, some as a family. Gabriel and I are doing a Couch-to-5k (and if you haven’t checked out the app, do! It does all the timing for you!). Matt and I are doing a Whole30 (although I think he’s close to accusing me of spousal abuse). I’m doing a very gradual, head-ache avoidance caffeine detox, and man, let me tell you, that is rough for this coffee-drinking girl.

And as a family, we’re doing what is perhaps my favorite detox: a screen-time detox. I’m not banning screen-time for the month because I think the minions would rebel. But I am suggesting other things (mainly books, art, and games) each time someone asks me if they can watch TV or play Xbox. Youtube is also banned for a month because too often the kiddos are watching videos when they’re supposed to be reading.

Anyhow, as part of this effort, Lily found an old “Birds of the US” memory game that I hadn’t thought about it ages and the four of us played it. It’s been a hectic first week back to school/work after a lovely restful holiday and I think we were all pretty tired and cranky when we started playing. Gabriel even tried to quit when he fell behind in the beginning. But by the end, we were all laughing together a lot more than we would have been if we’d spent the time doing our usual, watching Cutthroat Kitchen or Mythbusters, or Agents of SHIELD.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re all anxious for the return of Agents of SHIELD and I’ve been toying with the idea of introducing the kids to the older Star Trek TV shows, so we’re not going media-free by any means. Just trying to be a little more intentional about it and make sure we’re spending the rainy winter days doing something more than staring at a screen. So far, so good.

Are you trying to start any new habits in the New Year? 

The Silver (Haired) Lining

A photo of Julie with long brown hair
Me, in curly-headed, brown-haired glory a few years ago.

Around this time last year, at the tender age of 39, I had to admit defeat in my battle against gray hair. I was at the point where even coloring my hair every 5-6 weeks wasn’t enough to keep me from having the dreaded silver stripe down my part. For a while, a little voice had been whispering “go natural, go natural,” but it’s surprising how many louder voices drowned it out for a while. It will age you. People will think your kids are your grandkids. What will your husband think? Color isn’t as toxic as it used to be. Just keep doing it.

But I’m sort of stubborn, and so is that little voice. So I talked to my stylist and came up with a plan. For a few dying cycles, he did progressively lighter shades of my natural brown to see if that would help with the white stripe at my part & although it did, it was still bugging me.

photo of Julie with dyed hair
The last dye job. January 2015

I knew we were moving back to the states in December, but to a place where I didn’t know anyone. I was never going to have a better time to transition. So I chopped my hair off in late September and stopped dying it soon thereafter.

By February, I had enough root growth to cut the rest of the color off into an ultra-shot pixie. The lady in the chair next to me at the salon, who was more than ten years older than I am, made sure to comment on how brave I was, while mentioning that she could never do it herself in the same breath.

I’d like to say that I don’t know what the big deal is. But I do. Women are still judged so much for how they look, how they “keep themselves up” and I think deep down there is a belief that looking older might somehow make you feel older too. Well, it doesn’t. I’m 40 and I have gray hair. Big deal. I still want to be Peter Pan when I (never) grow up. I still write kids books, color in coloring books, and make mud pies in the garden. I still act like the child that I am on the inside. Just ask my kids. And my husband hasn’t left me for a 25-year-old (or a 40-year-old trying to look like a 25-year-old). Probably because he knows I’d put a hex on him if he did.

A photo of Julie Artz
Photo (c) Gail Werner

The good news is that I can just pretend I’m on the cutting edge of fashion as starlets the world over embrace gray hair. Before you get too excited about us making progress toward stamping out this little bit of ageism in the fashion world, though, the trend is called “the granny look.” Well, I guess I always wanted to be Granny Weatherwax anyway.

Anyhow, my Mom, new hairdresser, & bff loved the pixie. I didn’t, so I’ve been letting it grow ever since. Almost a year later, the curls I had to chop off are coming back and my hair is just barely long enough to tuck behind my ears. And it’s as silver as the summer day is long, with only a hint of brown left along my neckline.

I don’t think it makes me look older. Or maybe I just don’t care any more.

Model Undercover: New York, A Middle Grade Book Giveaway

modelundercoverI know it’s been ages since I’ve blogged, but, you know, international move, holidays, new school for the kids. I’ve had my reasons. Life is slowly returning to normal and one sign of that is that I’m back at the writing desk (or actually I don’t have a desk yet, so it’s the writing couch at the moment). Check out my post over at From the Mixed-Up Files before Friday for a chance to win a copy of Model Undercover: New York, a middle grade detective story with a very fashion forward protagonist.

Moving-Induced Paralysis

AnxietyThis week, we slipped under the six-month mark. We move 20 December and I have a zillion things to do. Really. I have furniture to sell or get rid of, loads of appliances to offload (but not until after I cook Thanksgiving Dinner of course!), a cupboard full of spices and other food items to use up, and basically a whole house to declutter. Oh yeah, and you know, my real life, where I’m writing a book and trying to sell it.

So yeah, I’m paralyzed and anxious and feeling sorta like the guy in the animation. A million things to do and I’m spending an inordinate amount of time trawling Redfin and Zillow for houses (which just makes me more paralyzed because oh my god, sticker shock!). And blogging, apparently. Oh yeah, and watching junk TV (but I’m finally caught up on Scandal!). The nutty thing is that I’m feeling really positive about living in Washington. Just not so good about the moving part.

It’s not like I haven’t done this before. The first time I moved, I was twenty and flew by myself to France with nothing more than a backpack and a suitcase. That felt exhilarating and rebellious and all kinds of things. Yeah, there was some stress in there too and saying goodbye, even if only for six months, was tough. But it was nothing like this.

This feels like I am going to run out of time, but that all the balls that need to be set in motion are completely out of my control. Like I’m an anchor in a relay, watching her teammates get farther and farther behind and not being able to do anything but sit there screaming, reaching for that baton, and knowing that even super-human speed won’t be enough. Wow, where did that running simile come from? Can I use that in my fiction?

OK, my sense of humor is at least somewhat intact, so I’m probably going to survive this. But I’ll probably need to grumble about it again between now and 20 December…

Talking to Kids About Sex

SMirC-embarassedEvery parent I know dreads having “the talk” with their child. It’s tough to decide when to have the talk, what to say, and how to broach such an important subject in a way that won’t be embarrassing or uncomfortable. But talking to kids about sex needs to happen, and probably sooner than you think.

Before this was even on my radar, a friend of my son’s (who had very informative older brothers) told him about the mechanics of sex. He was seven and I was horrified when an adult made a joke about sex in front of him and he replied “I know what that means.” As much as I wanted to freak out, I remained calm enough to talk with him about what he’d learned so that I could figure out what to do next. For better or for worse, the little boy’s brothers had given him a fairly anatomically-correct description of sex, which he’d helpfully passed on to my son and his first grade classmates.

So that’s my first tip: If you want to be the first one to talk to your children about sex, you’re probably going to need to start talking about this earlier than you thought.

My second tip: Do your homework. And make sure you know what your own views are on this topic as you read up. After that first surprising conversation with my son, my best friend directed me to Planned Parenthood’s website, which is full of excellent age-appropriate resources for talking about sex and sexuality with preschoolers, elementary schoolers, and teenagers about sex.

The most comprehensive article I found on talking with kids about sex is this one from US News and World Report. For a slightly less dry first-hand account, this one written by a doctor sharing her own ongoing conversation about sexuality with her daughter, provides a helpful perspective. The University of Washington also did an excellent Ask the Experts on this topic this summer, interviewing two experts in human sexuality. The interview contains not only good tips, but some great books that parents can use to facilitate these difficult conversations.

Third tip: Bring a book or two to “the talk.” Not only does it give you and your child a focal point (especially helpful if one or both of you is embarrassed), but it also gives the child a text they can walk away with and mull over in privacy. These types of issues are hard to take in for the first time and especially if your child needs some time to process, it may take an hour, a few days, or even a few weeks for your child to come up with the questions he or she wants to ask on this topic. It took my son several months to admit to me that his friend had told him about sex, and the conversations that revelation started continue today (he’s now ten, and on the verge of beginning sex education at school).

Narrated by the proverbial bird and bee, this popular series starts with a book for preschoolers called It’s Not the Stork and continues on to It’s So Amazing and It’s Perfectly Normal for older children.

I wish I had discovered this series when my children were preschool aged so that my son would have had a little more preparation for his enlightening conversation with his classmate. The same author wrote Let’s Talk About Where Babies Come From, which is the book I ultimately selected to fill in the gaps in my son’s knowledge and to present to his younger sister when the time came this fall for her to have the talk as well.

There’s some great fiction on this topic too. Judy Blume’s classic, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret isn’t the only choice any more. Stephanie Greene‘s Sophie Hartley and the Facts of Life also handles this issue in a more contemporary setting.

We’re just getting in to puberty discussions with our children now (*gulp*), so a follow-up post will be in order when the time comes. What resources did you use when talking with your kids about sex? Have an embarrassingly-hilarious story of your own to share? The more we talk about this as parents, the easier it will be to talk to our kids.

Repatriating Expats

Seattle world fair stamp
Expat life is full of Big Questions. When do you go? When do the kids & I follow? Where will we live? How do we enroll the kids in school? Who is going to pay for/schedule/plan which pieces of this craziness? Am I going to go nuts in the process?

From these questions, you can probably tell that another move is on our horizon. Next month, we’re moving to the Redmond, Washington (Greater Seattle) area so that my husband can continue his job with Microsoft. Despite being asked regularly if we’re excited to “go home,” this is new territory for us. Sure, we’re American, and we are lucky enough to have both friends and (for the first time in the kids’ lives!) family in the area. But I’ve never even been to Redmond. Or Bellevue. Or Sammamish. Which, according to our very helpful realtor, are the best housing options if we want to avoid giving Matt a hellish commute in a traffic-laden urban area.

I’d be lying if I said that I’m not ready to leave Finland after four years. Did I mention how dark and dreary it is at this time of year, a time of year that I have now experienced FIVE times? But saying goodbye to friends is hard for the children and for us. In typical expat fashion, Matt needs to be in the US now to do his job, so that means much of the next six weeks of insanity will be navigated as a solo parent. Whee!

The kids don’t really remember living in the US before, so most of their memories come from this past summer. Considering that I packed in as many activities (summer camp! theme parks! mountain climbing! boat rides! beach time!) and as much cousin/grandma time as I could, they’ve got a fairly positive attitude about the move. Oh, and I might have promised them kittens too, just to keep them out of therapy sweeten the deal.

Despite the bribery carefully-managed expectations, the kids are still nervous. Gabriel asked me about first impressions on the way to school yesterday, spurring a long conversation about how first impressions when you start a new school are totally different than first impressions that you make at a one-time event like a job interview or performance. Yes, my heart squeezed big time as we had that conversation. My mellow little man may not be saying much, but he’s definitely processing.

Even as I madly declutter, organize, stalk real-estate web sites, book a 10-hour time difference house-hunting trip, and research schools, we’ll spend as much of the next six weeks as we can just hanging with friends and making just a few more memories before we go. In the meantime, if it’s a little quiet around here, you’ll know why.

Insomnia Hacks

BroxSistersBed

As the light fades to winter darkness here in Finland, I’ve been pulling out my woolens and preparing for my annual fight against Seasonal Affective Disorder. What I hadn’t planned for, however, was a bout of insomnia.

I often struggle to fall asleep (or go back to sleep if I wake in the night) when I have a lot on my mind. And boy do I have a lot on my mind this month. We’re planning our move back to the US, with fewer concrete details and less time than I would like, trying to sell our house in Colorado after quite a bit of fixing up/painting/cleaning and hiring a new realtor, and on top of that, I’m querying the book I wrote last year as I work on finishing a different manuscript. Whew! No wonder I can’t sleep.

The National Sleep Foundation reports that 48% of Americans struggle with insomnia, 22% chronically. They also point out that women are 1.3 times more likely than men to suffer from insomnia. Being over the age of 65, or being divorced, widowed, or separated are also all risk factors. I don’t know if this makes me feel better because I’m not alone or worse because so many people know exactly how lousy I feel right now.

I need to be alert to make it smoothly through the next two months of writing/moving, so walking around in a daze until the sleep goddess returns to me is not an option. But neither is taking a pill, since they typically make me feel ill and groggy. So here is a list of natural insomnia remedies that I’ll be working through this week as I try to sleep. If you also struggle with insomnia, maybe they’ll help you too.

Eight ways to combat insomnia:

  • Exercise – This is the best natural remedy I’ve found for insomnia. Part of my problem with sleeping this month is that I’m also nursing an injury that has kept me away from my usual routine. Luckily, I returned to my beloved footy this morning and I already feel more alert. Just remember to exercise early in the day. A 10pm run is likely is to wake you up instead of help you drift off. The National Sleep Foundation has more detailed information here.
  • Supplements & Herbs – Taurine, Tryptophan, Magnesium, Valerian, Melatonin, L-theanine, and GABA are recommended in various places, including this detailed WebMD article and this one from Psychology Today. I’ve tried GABA and Tryptophan with great results and Magnesium is good all around for lowering stress. I haven’t tried melatonin, taurine, valerian, or l-theanine, but I may have to if things don’t get better soon.
  • Turning off the screens – If I write in the late evening, it’s almost a guarantee that I won’t sleep. I even try to avoid checking in on Facebook/email in the hour before bedtime. The light itself can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms and on top of that, anything that makes your mind active is likely to prevent you from sleeping. If you read on an eBook reader of some kind, use the black background/white text option and turn the brightness down for that bedtime reading.
  • Consistent bedtime routine – This, in combination with turning off screens an hour before bedtime, really does help with insomnia. We have to wake up at the same time every day to get the kids to school, so now we go to bed at approximately the same time every night, with quiet reading time each night before we turn the lights out. I haven’t yet added yoga/meditation to the list, but Dr. Weil and Mayo Clinic both say I should.
  • Skipping the Nightcap – This may sound counter-intuitive, but I can no longer deny it–I sleep better on days when I don’t drink. Prevention Magazine agrees.
  • Watch caffeine intake, especially after noon – This is hard for me, because I often write in the afternoon and a pot of tea is my constant companion. But I’ll be switching to herbal today.
  • White Noise – After several years spent coaxing a reluctant little girl to sleep and using white noise to try to keep her asleep, I have also added white noise to my own bedroom in the form of a fan. It’s a double-bonus because I like to sleep cold, so I use the fan even through the Finnish winter.
  • Sex before bed – Well, it’s worth a try, right? And Psychology Today says I should, so…

Do you have any other tips for breaking the insomnia cycle? Share them in comments!

Living with a Writer (or, why I feel sorry for my husband)

Lying in bed the other night, my husband and I were chatting about our day and decompressing a bit before bedtime. Our conversation lulled for a moment and something (a dust mote floating through the air, the scent of smoke coming in through the window from our neighbor’s fire, it doesn’t take much) sent my mind from the relative calm of our pre-bedtime routine straight back into the insomnia-inducing danger zone of revising my book.

He asked what I was thinking about, and I had to sheepishly admit that I was thinking, yet again, about my story. He groaned, teased me a bit, and we were both able to drift off to sleep. But it got me thinking.

I’ve blogged before about life as the wife of an INTP, but now I’d like to send some appreciation over to that INTP, who is now suffering through the sometimes-agony of being married to a writer. Not that I haven’t always been a writer, because I have, but for the past year, it’s gone from a hobby or future dream to a full-time job, and one that’s consuming all of my time and most of my mental energy as well. Read more

I Read Banned Books

September 21-27 is Banned Books Week in the United States. Wait a minute, I hear you say, how can book be banned in the country whose Bill of Rights is held up as a model for the rest of the world? Many Americans ask that same question.

The First Amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Only three little words in that very-long sentence apply here (and no, I won’t be commenting upon other pieces of this amendment in this post, although there is much that could be said): freedom of speech. And, to be fair, I don’t think Congress has ever banned a book or passed a law that would ban a book. In most cases, books seem to be banned by school administrators or removed from curricula or library shelves for a variety of reasons ranging from obscenity to sexual content to social issues that they’d rather not address with their students.

All of that might seem reasonable, if not for the books in question. I could almost, almost understand To Kill a Mockingbird being controversial when it was first published in 1960. It talks about racism and justice in ways that were considered groundbreaking on one side of the equality movement and heretical on the other. But when I started poking around yesterday, I learned from the American Library Association’s Frequently Challenged Books list that To Kill a Mockingbird was banned as recently as 2011 for containing “racism.”

There are so many other books I could mention here from Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner being banned for “homosexual content” and questionable religious content (apparently folks have missed the freedom of religion clause in addition to freedom of speech) to Judy Blume’s books being banned for honest portrayals of adolescent sexuality, to The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison being banned for some of the same misguided reasons as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. But there’s actually a great list of banned books on Banned Books Week’s site.

But I just keep going back to banning the too-few books that actually try to talk about race for containing “racism.” There’s a huge movement underway to increase the diversity in the publishing industry. That diversity extends beyond racial diversity to include diversity in sexual orientation and also characters who have disabilities. It began as a reaction to the announcement of an all-white, all-male panel as part of BEA’s BookCon this past spring, but #WeNeedDiverseBooks has spread beyond that, in part because of the increasing tension in the United States over marriage equality and police violence against black Americans and elsewhere over similar issues.

Diversity in YA put together a great post about how banning books squelches this diversity because the majority of banned books are ones that are written by minorities or written about them. And heaven forbid minorities speak out about this issue. When UK’s children’s laureate Malorie Blackman did so, bigots heaped abuse and threats on her for speaking up.  In a society when we’re already marginalizing so many people based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or socio-economic group, can we really afford to continue banning books that speak for these very people?

The answer is no. We cannot. Ultimately, diversity in publishing is not a matter just for writers or publishers to address. The works of art that we as a society produce reflect our hopes, our beliefs, and our identities as individuals and as a nation. Likewise the works of art that we choose to censor reflect our fears and our tight-as-ever grip on status quo.