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Writing

Why I'm Only Having One Kid

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Here is a guaranteed conversation starter: Tell someone you’re an only child, born of an only child, who has decided to have an only child. Being an only child is somewhat unusual to begin with. Two generations is rare. But three in a row? It is the genealogical equivalent of a unicorn.

I know this because I am a unicorn. My mother is an only child. My father was raised as an only child. (Technically, he had two siblings, but they were older, lived in a different state, and were so estranged that I never met either of them; now both are dead.) As a result, I have no aunts or uncles. I have no cousins that I know of. I have no siblings.

Read on at Medium.com

The Real Cost of Phone Addiction

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You, like most people, probably use your phone too much. People spend an average of four hours a day staring at their handheld screen, according to the time-tracking app Moment, and that doesn’t include time spent using their phones to do other things, like listen to podcasts or take calls. Engage in any activity for that long and it changes your brain. Those changes may be positive if we are talking about, say, meditation. Less so if it’s time spent staring at your phone.

For the past three years, I have been conducting research and writing a book about our relationships with our phones. I’ve since concluded that phone time is affecting everything from our memories and attention spans to our creativity, productivity, relationships, stress levels, physical health, and sleep. In short, if you feel like your phone is changing you — and not always for the better — you’re not crazy. You’re right.

Continue reading on Medium

Flywheel: Spin Class for the Truly Masochistic

Flywheel, in case you do not keep up with the stationary biking/clubbing scene in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Florida, Atlanta, North Carolina, Texas, or—now—Philadelphia, is a descendant of SoulCycle, another New York-based spinning cult. By “spinning,” I mean a fitness class where you ride on a stationary bike in a dark room, sprinting up imaginary hills to a soundtrack of Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj. And by cult, I mean, well, cult. In my one and only SoulCycle class (a single class in Manhattan costs $34), I watched a group of ponytailed, aggressively fit women—many in makeup, at least one carrying a gold-embossed SoulCycle gym bag—line up on the sidewalk on Manhattan’s Upper East Side outside what used to be a bodega-sized store called Champagne Video. Their $34 did not buy them a locker room, or even a shower. It was good only for 45 minutes in a small room that was packed so tightly with bikes that it was difficult to maneuver between them, and a sound system so loud that I took them up on the complimentary earplugs. “Change Your Body, Take Your Journey, Find Your Soul,” read the manifesto on the wall

For Slate, I reveal my competitive streak.  Did I mention that I won?

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.

Road Kill: Is it Fair Game?

In a piece for Slate, I wrote about the time when my husband and I ate a rabbit we found in the middle of the road. I was not anticipating that they would illustrate it.

It really was a good-looking rabbit. Shiny coat, sleek body, glassy eyes—only its mangled back leg hinted at its violent cause of death. My husband Peter and I had come across this rabbit on a trip to a bird sanctuary in Gridley, Calif. It was lying in the middle of a narrow country road, stretched stiffly across the pavement; Peter swerved slightly to avoid its body.

"That was a pretty rabbit," he said, guiding the car back into the correct lane.

I agreed. We continued down the road in silence. Then, several hundred meters later, Peter spoke again.

"Should we go back and pick it up?"

He was suggesting that we take the rabbit home and eat it. Yes, I'm aware that this sounds crazy. And no, I'm not a back-to-the-land hippie: I grew up in Manhattan, where eating something off the street will likely result in an untimely death. But we were living in Oakland, Calif., dangerously close to Berkeley—the epicenter of the organic food movement, where the words local andsustainable are prized more than Michelin stars. This rabbit was wild, grass-fed, and presumably antibiotic- and artificial hormone-free. Except for the car that had hit it, no food miles had been accrued delivering it to us. So why not bring it home for dinner?

Four Days in Tokyo for O

It was Friday night in Shinjuku, a Tokyo neighborhood famous for neon signs, subterranean shopping malls, and rent-by-the-hour lodgings known as love hotels. In crowded bars, people tipped back beers and sang karaoke. Young men with black jackets and gelled hair stood on street corners, offering menus of available escorts to passersby. In the midst of the action was a store window, covered except for a narrow strip of glass. If you were to have stopped and looked through it, you would have seen something strange: my legs, submerged to the ankles, with 600 flesh-eating fish feasting on my feet.

This is the story of how I got there.

I recently had the amazing opportunity to write a story for O, The Oprah Magazineabout taking a trip in which I based all of my decisions, from what I saw to where I slept, on the recommendations of strangers. It's out in the June issue, along with this slide show.

101 Places Not To See Before You Die

My travel book is out!:

Now out from HarperPaperbacks, 101 Places Not To See Before You Die is a guide to some of the least appealing destinations and experiences in the world. From the armpit of New Jersey to the Beijing Museum of Tap Water to, of course, Euro Disney, it includes some of the most boring museums,stupidest historical attractions, and worst Superfund sites you’ll ever have the pleasure of not visiting. But the book goes much further.Jupiter’s Worst Moon, an Outdoor Wedding During the 2021 Reemergence of the Great Eastern Cicada Brood, Fan Hours at the Las Vegas Porn Convention —101 Places Not To See Before You Die travels through time and space to provide a welcome — and unusual — reprieve from the glut of “inspirational” travel books currently on the market.

Far from being just an encyclopedic list of crappy travel statistics, 101 Places Not To See Before You Die is also a backhanded tribute to what makes traveling so great: its tendency to put us in situations that we otherwise never would have experienced. With guest entries from writers like Nick Kristof and A.J. Jacobs, 101 Places Not To See Before You Die is filled with stories and anecdotes of misadventure to which any seasoned traveler can relate. These are the experiences we tell to friends afterwards, the stories that earn us bragging rights, the reason why we’re willing to put up with the bed bugs and the food poisoning and set out to explore to the world.

101 Places Not To See Before You Die: Because Bad Places Make Good Stories.

 

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.

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.

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.

Can Tracking Your Health Drive You Crazy?

I spend, on average, 128 minutes in REM sleep per night. I require a minimum of 1,400 calories per day to stay alive. My resting heart rate hovers around 57 beats per minute but spikes to 65 when I'm answering e-mail or talking to my husband on the phone.

I know all this because I recently spent two weeks following my body's statistics with as many devices, Web services, and phone apps as i could manage at once. Inspired by a growing group of extreme self-trackers—people who attempt to quantify their everyday activities (everything from exercise to sleep to sex) in order to gain insight about themselves—I set out to answer two questions: Would monitoring myself inspire me to adopt a healthier lifestyle? And what would happen to my peace of mind if I turned my life into a data sheet?

For O, the Oprah Magazine, I find out whether keeping tracking every aspect of your health can actually drive you insane.

The Elephant Buffet

If you’d asked me in a different context to guess what was meant by the term “elephant buffet,” I might have thought it was a meal hosted by some wacko trying to market elephant steaks as a novelty meat. I would not have imagined that the city of Surin would close down an entire street, line it with folding tables, pile those tables with thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables, and invite more than 300 elephants to an all-you-can-eat breakfast.

I didn't know it until recently, but I love elephants. A lot. So I was thrilled when I got a chance to feed 300 of them breakfast -- and then wrote about it for National Geographic's Intelligent Travel blog.