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Features

How to Break Up with Your Phone

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The moment I realized I needed to break up with my phone came just over two years ago. I had recently had a baby and was feeding her in a darkened room as she cuddled on my lap. It was an intimate, tender moment — except for one detail. She was gazing at me … and I was on eBay, scrolling through listings for Victorian-era doorknobs.

I’m not going to try to explain this particular personal passion. The point is that a good 15 minutes had probably passed before I finally caught sight of my daughter looking at me, her tiny face illuminated by my phone’s blue light. I saw the scene as it would have looked to an outsider — her focused on me, me focused on my phone — and my heart sank. This was not the way I wanted things to be.

An increasing number of us are coming to realize that our relationships with our phones are not exactly what a couples therapist would describe as “healthy.” According to data from Moment, a time-tracking app with nearly five million users, the average person spends four hours a day interacting with his or her phone.

Continue reading in the New York Times

How Not to Let Your Phone Ruin Your Vacation

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Strategies for traveling without letting your phone keep you from enjoying your trip.

Now that summer is in full swing, a lot of people have been asking me the same question: How can you take your phone with you on vacation without letting your phone ruin your vacation?

It’s a modern quandary: Phones are obviously useful tools, especially when you’re on the road. But too often, a quick check turns into an hourlong scroll session. And if you’re going to spend your trip trolling Instagram or responding to emails, what’s the point of leaving home?

It might seem absurd to have to strategize how to set boundaries with your smartphone. But the reward — a vacation that feels like a vacation — is well worth the work. Here are some useful tips on how to use your phone on vacation, without letting it hijack your trip.

Continue reading in the New York Times

9 Ways to Finally Stop Spending So Much Time on Your Phone

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9 Ways to Finally Stop Spending So Much Time on Your Phone

“Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything,” Steve Jobs said in 2007, when he introduced the first iPhone. Eleven years later, the question isn’t whether he was right. It’s whether we like the way we’ve changed.

Today, the average American checks his or her phone 47 times a day — many more if they’re younger — and spends about four hours a day staring at its screen. That’s roughly a sixth of our total time alive. Given these numbers, it makes sense that there’s an increasing sense of concern over our relationships with our phones. In January, two of Apple’s biggest shareholders wrote an open letter to Apple requesting that the company provide “more choices and tools”that can help parents set limits on their children’s phone time. In the same month, Facebook announced that it had overhauled the algorithms behind its news feed, to put more emphasis on “meaningful interactions” — i.e., posts from friends and family members, rather than brands. And February saw the launch of the Center for Humane Technology, a coalition of former tech employees who are alarmed about the impact of the technologies they helped create.

Continue reading on Time.com

Diabetes in the New York Times

 

Before I received the diagnosis that I had Type 1 diabetes, I saw food as food, and ate it as such -- simply, casually, with no real thought attached.

The winter of my senior year of college, after a bad cold and a painful breakup, I began eating more -- not to cope, but to feel full. I was hungry, always hungry. Hungry and thirsty and tired, piling my tray in the dining hall with pasta, cheese, dessert, getting up in the middle of the night to slurp water from my dorm's bathroom faucet.

I gorged myself and yet my pants were looser, my arms thinner, my stomach flatter. One afternoon I threw it all up, convinced I had food poisoning. My stomach eventually settled but my mind did not. The world swirled. I couldn't stand without stumbling. On February 17th, 2001, I entered the hospital, and since that day, food has never been the same.

In 2009, Tara Parker-Pope at the New York Times published an essay of mine in the Well blog called "Thinking About Diabetes With Every Bite." about my experience living with Type 1 diabetes. Not only was I thrilled to have such a personal piece placed in the Times, but I've been incredibly touched by the wonderful feedback I've gotten from other people with Type 1 (and Type 2). It's inspired me to keep writing about diabetes -- if you want to read more, check out my blog over at the diabetes website, A Sweet Life.

Why I Hate Partner Yoga

My dislike of partner yoga started with a stranger's sweaty thighs. I had just moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to the San Francisco Bay Area, and I was working my way through a Sunday morning Vinyasa class with the same discipline, determination and Type A drive I bring to most attempts at relaxation. But I kept getting distracted by the young man next to me. To be specific, I was distracted by the moisture he was producing. No sooner had we started sun salutations than the man began to sweat, energetically and abundantly. By the time the class was halfway through, drops of perspiration rolled off his nose with the regularity of a leaking faucet, and a puddle had formed on the floor in front of his mat. Instead of wiping off his face with a towel, he removed his shirt. Now sweat began to drip from a new spot: his nipples.

When I go to yoga, I want to be alone. Apparently I'm not the only one, as I discovered after I wrote this article for Salon.

Rebooting the Immune System

A sign rests on the windowsill in the office of Jeffrey Bluestone, director of the Immune Tolerance Network and the Diabetes Center at the University of California at San Francisco. Measuring nearly three feet across, it reads “Club Bluestone” in pink and blue neon. It’s the sort of artifact you’d expect to find in a bar. But Bluestone is a world-renowned immunobiologist; his father-in-law had the sign made for him in the late 1980s when Bluestone was working long hours in his lab at the University of Chicago. As the night wore on and their energy faded, he and his colleagues would turn out the lights, turn on the sign and, propelled by the power of Bruce Springsteen, push forward with their research. “It was our version of partying,” he says.

As you may already know, auto-immune diseases like Type 1 diabetes or multiple sclerosis occur when your immune system malfunctions and mistakes part of your own body for a foreign invader. In the case of Type 1, it's when your body decides to kill off the cells that produce insulin, a hormone necessary to absorb the energy in your food. I think I speak for all Type 1 diabetics when I say that destroying these cells is not the body's smartest move.

I was lucky enough to participate in a trial for a promising new drug -- created by the aforementioned Jeffrey Bluestone -- that attempted to stop my system from killing off the rest of my insulin-producing cells. What's more, I recently got a chance to write about this drug -- and others like it -- for Popular Science. The article's called "Rebooting the Body." Here's a link to a digital copy.

I also got a chance to speak about the piece on the New Hampshire Public Radio Show, Word of Mouth. You can listen to the interview here.

Can a Blender Change Your Life?

When you first buy a Vitamix 5200, the so-called Ferrari of blenders, two thoughts are likely to pass through your mind. The first is “Did I really just spend more than $400 on a blender?” And the second is “This machine is going to change my life.

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At least those are the thoughts I had after I bought my Vitamix at a nutrition-related conference several weeks ago. I hadn’t planned to make this purchase; I’d merely followed some colleagues to the Vitamix demonstration stand, where a fast-talking young man with a headset and an impressive dexterity with Dixie cups was offering samples to an enthusiastic crowd. I watched as he liquefied a pineapple. I witnessed him puree an entire clove of garlic, unpeeled. I tried a sample of a green smoothie, then a tortilla soup, then a blended cappuccino. Before I knew what had happened, I’d taken out my credit card. The damage? $429.89—and that was with a discount.

As I crossed the exhibition hall, the Vitamix’s enormous box knocking against my shins, I began to question what I’d just done.

That’s when I heard a voice call out to me.

“You won’t regret a penny!” the voice cried in a thick Jamaican accent. “You won’t regret one cent!

I turned to find an older woman waggling a finger at me, a huge smile on her face. This woman had no connection to the Vitamix booth; she just felt so passionately about her own machine that, upon viewing mine, she couldn’t help but shout.

“I love my Vit-a-mix,” she continued, enunciating each syllable, before launching into a highly complimentary review of the company’s return and repair policy. “I love it so much, I would recommend it to the dead!”

It was a strong, if odd, endorsement. And as I walked away, her words ringing in my ears, my anxiety over its price quickly morphed into something else: excitement.

For Slate, I write about the Vitamix 5200. Spoiler alert: it lives up to its hype.

Moonshine!

Standing in the middle of the room at the Sweetwater Distillery in Petaluma, Calif., Bill Owens held a feedbag full of stale donuts high in the air. With a crowd gathered around him, he dumped its contents -- chocolate glazed, jelly-filled, iced with sprinkles -- into a tank filled with hot water and plunged an industrial mixer into the liquid, splattering warm, sticky bits onto anyone who stood too close. A dog wandered up and began licking the floor.

As part of my research for this article about moonshine for  Salon, I got the chance to track down local distillers and sample their homemade spirits. (And no, drinking moonshine isn't actually against the law.) My advice? Beware the slivovitz.

(The piece also got picked up by the New York Times's Idea of the Day Blog.)

The Passion of Latin Lovers

Even if you ignore ( from ignorare -- to not know, disregard) the Romans' influence ( influere -- to flow in) on our culture ( colere -- to foster, cultivate or respect), architecture ( architectus, from the Greek arkhi -- chief + tekton -- builder, carpenter), literature ( littera -- letter), government (gubernare -- navigate, pilot, govern), military (miles -- soldier), legal ( lex -- the law) and judicial (iudex -- a judge) systems and medicine ( medicus -- physician), there's still the fact ( factum -- something done, a fact) of Latin's presence ( praesentia -- presence) in English itself.

As might be obvious, getting to write a feature about Latin for the Washington Post Magazine was a treat for my inner dork.

Are You Ready to Fly? Plane Quiz for PARADE

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For PARADE Magazine, I put together a quiz about plane travel. Unfortunately, my statistics on animal strikes (frequent; not just birds but turtles) and ridiculous stories about safety announcements (Virgin America had to put a bull into its safety video instead of a dog over concern that people would think dogs need to wear seat belts*) did not make it in. But nonetheless!

*and what? Bulls don't?

My Worms

They arrived early on a Tuesday morning in a cardboard box. “1000 Red Worms,” read the label in large letters printed beneath the USPS tracking number. Return address: Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. My mailman handed the package to me with no emotion, but I was excited. Inside were the catalysts for my latest experiment: vermicomposting. Or, to be less Latinate about it, composting with worms.

For Slate Magazine, I write about the 10,000 or so red wigglers currently residing in my kitchen.

Spanish Camp, the Adult Version

If you asked me to describe my typical Tuesday night, it would not include singing a parody version of “La Bamba” in front of a group of adults, in Spanish, while wearing a sombrero. But then, there were many experiences during my recent week at camp that were not exactly typical. I don’t often, for example, take a yoga class in Spanish, or make pizza over an Argentinean grill, or spend every night watching a live version of Maria La Del Barrio, a spoof telenovela (soap opera) put on by my counselors.

I loved camp as a kid, so much that I even worked as a camp counselor during high-school summers. (I remember thinking that the $50-a-week position might be the most fun job I’d ever have.) But I’d assumed that—much like three-month-long summer vacations and being able to exist on $50 a week- my days as a camper were over. Turns out, I was wrong.

I just did a story for Parade Magazine about going to the Concordia Language Villages' Spanish program in Bemidji, Minnesota. Oh, to be eating tapas. . . .

Breast Friends

If you spend two weeks in close proximity to goat udders, it's inevitable that you'll think differently about your own breasts.

Or at least that's what happened to me. My husband and I had signed up to spend two weeks volunteering on a French farm where the farmer took one look at our soft hands and assigned us to what he considered his easiest job: milking the family's 27 dairy goats. And so once in the morning, once in the evening, Peter and I wheeled out the milking canisters and pumping gear (this was not a hand-extraction affair), lined up the goats at a feeding trough, and worked our way through the herd.

The monotony of the task was strangely satisfying, and I found myself looking forward to my time with the ladies, as I called them, skittish and ornery, with soft ears and narrow,Avatar-like pupils. Much like women's breasts, their udders came in all shapes and sizes. Some were huge and swollen, bumping into the goat's back knees as she waddled up to the milking station. Others would barely have qualified for a training bra. Some goats had lopsided udders, including one young animal whose left teat was so tiny that we didn't bother to milk it.

Usually, there's a clear distinction in my mind between the pasteurized, cereal-friendly stuff I buy in the grocery store and the baby-nourishing liquid that may one day emanate from my chest. But as I worked my way up and down the goats' ranks, massaging their udders to help the flow, the difference between the two became less obvious. I found myself suddenly very curious about milk.

For Slate, I write about Deborah Valenze's new book, Milk: A Global and Local History, and how it has forever changed my view of goats.

America's Bucket List

Considering that my most recent project was a parody travel guide called 101 Places Not To See Before You Die, I was a bit surprised when PARADE Magazine asked to put together a bucket list for America. But I'm very glad they did. From seeking out good barbecue to learning the lyrics to the second verse of the national anthem (did you know it's set to a drinking song?), it was fun to get a chance to come up with some genuine, feel-good ways to celebrate our country. That, plus Jimmy Fallon was on the cover.

The Limits of Locavorism. Or, The Time I Ate Sheep Intestine.

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As I took a bite, the flavor that greeted me revealed another important distinction between American and Mongolian cuisine. In America, even a dish as straightforward-sounding as "Fat-Wrapped Liver Chunks" would probably include a few unnamed, yet complementary ingredients like onions, or salt. But in Mongolia, the title says it all. Like everything we ate that night, my first bite had not been salted. It contained no herbs or spice. It was exactly what I knew it was: the liver of the sheep I'd just watched die.

For Slate Magazine, I write about what it really means to attend a traditional Mongolian feast -- and why I'd prefer never to do so again.

How To Be A Better Decision-Maker

It was a fortuitously timed assignment: a piece about decision-making that I researched just as my husband and I were moving to a new city. Choices abounded. Here are my conclusions, written for O, The Oprah Magazine.

I felt like punching Benjamin Moore in the face. My husband and I had just moved across the country, and after a flurry of big decisions, we were down to the nitty-gritty: what color to paint our new apartment. The previous tenant had gone with blood red, midnight blue, and tan—a look I referred to as "depressed Betsy Ross." Hoping to achieve something more cheerful, we sat on the floor surrounded by dozens of paint samples—Classic Gray or October Sky? Silken Pine or Mystic Beige?—when all I really wanted was to be able to just flip a switch in my brain and let my rational self determine the perfect choice.

Eating Tarantulas in Phnom Penh

When my husband Peter ordered the fried tarantulas at Romdeng, a restaurant in Phnom Penh that specializes in traditional Khmer food, he was hoping that he wouldn’t notice he was eating spider. I know that sounds delusional, but lots of fried foods bear little resemblance to their original ingredients. Think of popcorn shrimp. Or a corn dog. There was a chance that the spiders would arrive so coated in batter that their true arachnid nature would be camouflaged, nothing but a stomach-turning afterthought.

“I bet they’ll be dipped in tempura,” said Peter, as we waited for them to arrive.

“Like a zucchini fritter,” I said supportively.

But neither of us was convinced.

Peter and I had many adventures during our seven months on the road. One of them: eating deep fried tarantulas in Phnom Penh. I wrote about the experience for National Geographic's Intelligent Travel blog.

Self-Loathing in O

I just had a piece come out in O, The Oprah Magazine about how to stop beating yourself up for stupid things (or, as they titled it, "How to stop being so damn hard on yourself").

While I pride myself on being kind to others, I do not show the same compassion to myself. Instead, I have a gift for letting trivial things suck me into a vortex of self-loathing. A missed workout, a bad piano practice: Anything can churn my mind into an emotional whirlpool that gathers strength by pulling in unrelated failings—say, my difficulty choosing clothes or my lack of a steady paycheck. "Why can't I dress myself? Why did I pick this career?" Eventually, I'm dragged all the way under: "Why am I so pathetic?"

Judging from the feedback I've received so far,  I'm far from the only person who does this. It really makes you wonder: why are we so damn hard on ourselves?