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? 

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.

Insomnia Hacks


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!

A Letter to My Body

Suzanne Reisman over at BlogHer challenged women bloggers to write a letter to their bodies for Valentine’s Day. As you know, I was out of town last week, so I’m finally catching up. Here is my installment (read the original post here):

Dear body,

I have to admit I feel sheepish talking to you in such a public forum when neglect has characterized my relationship to you for so, so long. I’ve spent a lot more time raging against those who prefer that women hate their bodies than I have actually paying you any serious attention.

You got me through childhood with nothing more than a few scars and through college, though I abused you thoroughly. I should probably say, as I reflect on those years, that I’m very sorry for what I did to you, for the people who I let touch you, for the chemicals I put into you and on you (especially for that eggplant colored hair dye–so sorry!), for the lack of good food, sleep, adequate water, but it seems a little late for that.

I could ignore those few rough years and instead focus on all the wonderful things we’ve done together. All the tennis, the football, the volleyball, the hiking, the biking, the way you handle the dirt and grime of gardening with grace, the way you always bounce back from our excursions. It hasn’t been all bad after all, has it?

And I feel compelled to say thanks for getting me through two pregnancies–neither might have been exactly what we planned, and each might have taken a different toll on you; a few more scars, more than a few stretch marks, and some special mama sagging all mark you as a vessel that carried two children into this world.

When I look in the mirror at you, I see white hairs, a few wrinkles, the ever-increasing freckles that remind me I ought to use more sunscreen. But I also see laugh lines, my mother’s hands, my father’s funny winking eye, and I know that you are the one thing that is truly my own and that you provide physical reminders of where I’ve been and what I’ve done.

So instead of apologizing, although I know it’s in order, I think I’ll make you a promise in this public space. I promise to do better. I hope, even though my motivations might have been politics or the children or the environment instead your health and happiness, that you are enjoying all that organic, local, and in some cases home-grown food I’ve been feeding you. And you seem to be bouncing back well from the eighteen months you & I spent raw and awake with the Amazing Non-Sleeping Baby in our arms.

As the weather warms, I promise you that I’ll watch what I put into you–less stress, which should also mean less Advil, less food, which should also take a bit of the load off of your feet, more exercise, which, although it will likely continue to help those freckles multiply, will also help keep you running strong for the next thirty-three years of our journey together.

Yours truly,