Friday Link Love: Science Videos, Memoir Writing, and Gratitude

First links first: Presby-peeps, have you registered for the NEXT Church National Gathering in Charlotte? It’s going to be a fun, creative, hope-filled gathering.

Go register now, because early bird rates end next week. I’ll be here when you get back.

OK. Away we go:

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Is Atheism a Religion? — New York Times

A variety of perspectives from lots of smart folks, including Phyllis Tickle and Diana Butler Bass.

He’s not quoted here, but I am a fan of Alain de Botton and his School of Life for Atheists. (I linked to him yesterday in my post about why atheists need holidays.)

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Salon’s Guide to Writing a Memoir — Salon.com

H/t to Katherine Willis Pershey for linking to this wisdom recently.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Accept the limitations and boredom of your life as the challenge of writing. Accept your profound lameness as the wages of your craft. The problem is never that your life isn’t interesting enough, it’s that you aren’t looking (or writing) hard enough.

Sabbath in the Suburbs is memoir-ish, and I gotta say, I’m pretty sick of myself. My next book will not be a memoir.  But I still love reading good ones. Good ones.

Avi Steinberg:

If you’re not sure about the difference between publishing a story and therapy, you especially should find a good shrink.

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50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World — Twisted Sifter

The most useful list I’ve seen. OK, posts like this don’t solve world hunger, but they give me a weird sense of hope. Human beings are so resourceful:

life-hacks-how-to-make-your-life-easier-29

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Why Is There a Gap Between What We Feel and What We Express When It Comes to Gratitude? — Science and Religion Today

A recent study sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation found a dramatic gap between the gratitude people say they feel and what they express. In the large and demographically balanced survey, fully 90 percent of respondents said they were grateful for their immediate family, and 87 percent were grateful for their close friends. But when it came to expressing it, the numbers dropped almost in half. Only 52 percent of women and 44 percent of men said they express gratitude on a regular basis.

So why the big gap? Several factors come into play. Many people assume that those close to them already know how they feel, so they don’t need to state their appreciation. They are, of course, quite wrong.

More at the link.

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Australia Banned Assault Weapons. American Can Too — New York Times

I was elected prime minister in early 1996, leading a center-right coalition. Virtually every nonurban electoral district in the country — where gun ownership was higher than elsewhere — sent a member of my coalition to Parliament.

Six weeks later, on April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a psychologically disturbed man, used a semiautomatic Armalite rifle and a semiautomatic SKS assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

After this wanton slaughter, I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.

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How to Write a Muffin Recipe — Deb Perelman, Slate

I’m a big Smitten Kitchen fan and a HUGE muffin fan. Muffins are the perfect food. They are easy to make, bake up quickly, come in infinite varieties, and have built-in portion control. The recipe for Plum Poppy-Seed Muffins looks wonderful, but just as delightful is Deb’s description of her trial and error and her basic formula for create-your-own muffin flavors. This is kitchen improv at its finest.

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100 Best YouTube Videos for Science Teachers — Boogie Man Journal

Science teachers, and parents:

16.) Earth-Building Wounds
Scientists are studying the unique geological properties of Iceland in order to better understand how tectonic plates form and shift to permanently change the shape of the planet.
17.) The Wright Brothers Discover Aspect Ratio
John D. Anderson at the National Air and Space Museum provides an interesting talk on the Wright Brothers and their indispensible contributions to the history of human flight.
18.) Through the Wormhole: DNA
Morgan Freeman(!!!!!!) narrates a brief clip on the structure and importance of DNA. Short, but soothing. Also educational. Also Morgan Freeman.

Much, much more at the link.

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Have a great weekend, everyone. I’m off to Windy City tomorrow, where I’ll be leading a pastors’ retreat on Sabbath-keeping. Once I get back I’ll be preparing for Preacher Camp. So blogging will be light next week. Peace!

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How Not to Have a Gut-Busting Holiday… I Think

Two things:

1. I’ve been trying to maintain a weight loss for the last six months.

2. I adore holiday food.

I am a moderator, not an abstainer. Some people need to swear off sugar/meat/gluten in order to be healthy. That’s not my path; I just try to eat less. In the next month, there will be pralines made from my mother’s recipe. Coffee cake from the Cafe Beaujolais cookbook. Gingerbread cookies from Cooks Illustrated. Etc. So what’s a weight-conscious gal to do at Thanksgiving and Christmas?

I may have stumbled upon a bit of wisdom this weekend, and it was thanks to a tardy pecan pie.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, but it’s tough. I love the side dishes, and I want to sample everything. But I hate that “I’m gonna pop” feeling. Besides, it doesn’t feel very mindful or grateful to eat the way I often have on Thanksgiving. (I know others who love the sense of overindulgence, of throwing moderation to the winds. Eh. Your mileage may vary.)

We were hosting friends with little kids on Thursday, so we didn’t get fancy with the feast. Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts, storebought rolls, pumpkin pie. Fruit salad and cheese and crackers for the little ones. That’s a banquet by most of the world’s standards, but it’s a pretty low-key Thanksgiving meal for us.

And I’ll admit it: I missed the sweet potatoes. And the dressing. And some kind—any kind!—of casserole.

Meanwhile, I’d found out on Wednesday that the pecan pie my brother was sending me from Texas (I won a bet) wouldn’t arrive until Friday. I pouted for a few moments, then realized it gave me a perfect excuse to make one of those beloved side dishes I’d been missing. So on Friday I made a sweet potato dish, which we ate with our leftovers… and pecan pie for dessert, of course.

The success of Thanksgiving Part II made me wonder how long I could keep Thanksgiving going. I love a good squash casserole, so we roasted two acorn squash over the weekend which I will use to make this offbeat carbarrific beauty.

So here’s what I’m wondering. Instead of blowing the wad on a single gut-busting meal, why not make the feast last for a few days? Why not celebrate that thing you love to eat by making it the centerpiece of the meal?

That way each dish can be truly savored and enjoyed on its own terms, not relegated to a teeny corner of your plate. Remember, one of my approaches to weight maintenance is to “make friends with food.”

Now, will this approach keep the pounds off? Who knows? I just think it’s more satisfying (and I suspect, maybe healthier?) than a day of binging followed by several days of guilt and austerity.

So far so good with the bathroom scale. I sure felt better on Thursday evening. And I’ve had a ball each day since then, wondering “What can I make today to keep Thanksgiving going?” That’s a spiritual question in addition to a culinary one.

Would love to hear your tips for getting through the holidays without digging out your fat pants…

Friday Link Love: Mrs. Jesus, Mandatory Sandwiches, and a Wee Bit of Death

Let me first dispense with the Links of Self Promo:

New Website // Order the Book // Sign up for the Goodreads Giveaway

OK. Now that that’s done…

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Interactive Cloud of 6,000 Light Bulbs — O.C.L.

That’s Obligatory Colossal Link:

Gorgeous!

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Small Good Things — Paris Review

A lovely little essay about how writers illuminate the sacramental nature of ordinary things, particularly food.

The author talks about Raymond Carver’s story “A Small Good Thing,” which you may recall is about a couple who lose their 8 year old son, and they are tormented by the phone calls from a hapless baker who is demanding payment for the birthday cake he made for the boy.

I performed that piece for Prose Interp competitions in high school. I read it now and cringe to think of my performance. What did I know at 18 about the heartbreak within that story? Nothing. I knew nothing.

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Famous Writers on Death and Mortality — Flavorwire

I’ll say it—Christopher Hitchens was a pretentious old crank—but I cannot wait to read his book Mortality. In honor of its publication, here are 20 writers on the last great mystery:

“We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves.

I wish for all this to be marked on by body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography — to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.” – Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

By the way, if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend Sum: 40 Tales of the Afterlives by David Eagleman. So, so imaginative and poignant.

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How the President Gets Things Done — 99U

I really like 99U. Lots of cool ideas there. Here are some things that Barack Obama does to make his life easier and more efficient, including offloading trivial decisions like what to eat and wear.

#5 warmed my Sabbath-loving heart:

5. Your personal time is sacred.

The president has three moments in his schedule that are unquestionably his: the morning workout, his dinner with his daughters, and the nighttime after his family falls asleep. Each block of time serves a different role for Obama: the gym keeps his body in good health, the late night helps him catch up on work, and the dinner is especially sacred time, with the added benefit of giving the president a bit of perspective outside his hectic workday.

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Historian Says Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife — NYT

This has been making the rounds. This scrap of papyrus suggests that Jesus might have had a wife—it would not have been unusual at the time, folks—and  that there were female disciples (not earth-shattering to anyone who’s actually read the gospels—sisters are all over that good news!). Here’s the pertinent bit:

“This fragment suggests that some early Christians had a tradition that Jesus was married,” Dr. King said. “There was, we already know, a controversy in the second century over whether Jesus was married, caught up with a debate about whether Christians should marry and have sex.”

People have been wondering and arguing about this guy for a very, very long time. Disagreement over contested truths are nothing new. Giddy-up and praise be.

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Should Lunch Breaks Be Mandatory? — BBC

I’m not sure how I feel about mandating lunch breaks. Especially for people with a long commute and/or kids at home, there’s something to be said for compressing the workday so they can get home at a decent hour. Still:

One obvious reason to do lunch is to slow down and gain some perspective. If we burrow into work, and don’t come up for air during the day, we will have a hard time thinking strategically or putting our daily tasks into broader context.

By taking a lunch break, we can think outside the box. In the interviews I conducted for my book, I was struck by how many senior leaders stressed the importance of strategic “downtime” – lunch or some other block of an hour or more per day – to break up their thinking and spur them to be more strategic.

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What Americans Actually Do All Weekend, in 2 Graphs — NPR

What do you see in this graph? I see:

  1. A lot of sleep.
  2. Religious activities are only 37 minutes… and yet many worship services last an hour. So what’s up with the other 23 minutes? Oh right: sleeping.

Well, whatever the weekend holds for you, I hope that the leisure bit is a nice big piece of the graph.

Experiments in Food Rule #39

I’m a Maira Kalman fangirl. Some years ago I gave my sister-in-law a copy of Strunk and White illustrated by Kalman, and had to get one for myself. Last Christmas it was Robert’s turn: he received Food Rules by Michael Pollan, featuring Kalman’s quirky illustrations:

The food rules are listed here, though the book itself is worth checking out. One of my favorites is #39:

Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.

The idea is that anything you cook is going to be made with (generally) wholesome ingredients, so by making your own you will cut way down on preservatives, trans fats and Red 40 Lake.

But also, the effort involved in cooking your own junk food is an automatic limiter. Having a Costco-sized box of Oreos in your house can be more problematic than having 18 molasses cookies. Having to make them yourself means unless you have all the time in the world, you will have less on hand. And if your kids helped you make them, they are probably monitoring how quickly they’re disappearing.

We didn’t intentionally decide to follow this food rule—we’ve kinda backed our way into it. During the spring I got on a huge muffin kick and made a different muffin each week: strawberry lemonade, honey oat, pineapple bran. Muffins are a great hybrid food: are they a dessert? Are they a breakfast food? Plus they come in a single size: automatic portion control. Yeah, you can eat multiple muffins at a sitting—

not that I’ve ever done that… ~cough~

But at least you clearly see that’s what you’re doing, as opposed to furtively cutting yourself a bigger slice of quickbread or cake and calling it “one serving.”

Summer is too hot for the oven, so we’ve moved from muffins to ice cream. Robert picked up the Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book and has been having a field day. Their flavors are to die for: chocolate malt, fluffernutter, and Elvis: The Fat Years, which is banana ice cream studded with bacon peanut brittle.

(Robert wants me to tell you that the sugar content in some of these recipes keeps them from freezing very hard, so he’s made some tweaks.  He’s also adjusted the level of cream and milk to lighten them a little.)

The good thing about these flavors is a little goes a long way. Their chocolate is SO chocolatey that one serving is plenty. (Did you know that 1/2 cup of ice cream is considered a serving?)

One caveat: this week he made Harvey Milk and Honey (hey, they’re based in San Francisco) which involves raw honey and graham cracker pieces toasted in butter. That one, we could eat pints and pints of. You’ve been warned.

When I first heard about Food Rules I thought great, another scold. But there are so many rules that you can’t possibly follow them all, so there’s a gracious freedom to adopt those rules that make the most sense for you.

OK, you could follow them all, but I’m not sure I want to know you.

What do you think of food rules—Pollan’s or others? Do you have any food rules you follow?

Top Weight Loss Tips

People often ask me how I went about losing weight over these last several months. I feel very sheepish because I don’t have a good answer, and the stuff I do is in no way original. It’s a very unromantic combination of diet and exercise. No meal replacement. No expensive powders or weird smoothies. Just eating good food in the right proportions and running or walking 4-5 times a week.

That said, here are some tips that have been most useful for me.

  • Log everything you eat. I use MyFitnessPal, which tracks food and exercise. I’ve also heard good things about LoseIt. The bar code scanner makes it fun. Over time I’ve gotten less anal about logging absolutely everything, but that’s because I’ve got an intuitive sense of where I am. Is that a pain? Yes. Are there days I get sick of logging everything? Absolutely. Would I rather deal with the hassle of logging than backsliding? Yes.
  • Weigh yourself every day. Studies show that regular feedback is key to achieving goals. I think the conventional wisdom used to be a weekly weigh-in, but that’s not enough input to keep me going. That said, expect ups and downs. Look at the forest, not the trees. But look everyday.
  • Invest in a kitchen scale and measuring cups. Portion size is everything. It’s amazing how much I can fudge my portions if I try to eyeball it.
  • Be around people who will support, not sabotage.
  • This is a lifestyle, not a short-term goal. Which means I eat delicious things that are “bad” for me, and I do it with some regularity. My friend Jay, who’s done a great job with weight loss, put it well: “Be sensible more often than not and you’ll go in the right direction.”
  • Then again, I’m a moderator, not an abstainer. Figure out which one you are and be that.
  • Another tip from Jay: when you’re at a restaurant and are starting to pick at your meal after you’re full, sprinkle water from your water glass all over the food. Weird but it works. I’ve done similar things, including (gasp!) throwing away the rest of something that just needed to be out of my house and my life. (See: leftover tubs of frosting after a kid’s birthday.) Sorry, starving children of the world.
  • Dessert, alcoholic beverage, or a day off from exercise: pick two on any given day. You’ll likely stay in range, but you can still enjoy life and be flexible to the needs and desires of the moment.

Do you have any tips you use? Share in the comments.

Image comes from this post, which I featured recently on Link Love

Friday Link Love

Away we go:

Man Barely Able to Stand Does the Unthinkable — YouTube

I would like to know more specifics about how the yoga teacher helped him, but yes. Amazing.

h/t: Teri Peterson

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Neil deGrasse Tyson Gets Sidetracked While Singing Children’s Songs — McSweeney’s

They get his gee-whiz pegagogical voice just right:

Actually, some might call the wheels on the bus a “discovery” more than an invention, as most things in this world are a discovery of invention, rather than a fabrication out of nothing. This brings up something I want to discuss briefly here, if you will allow, because I think the misconception that a lot of people have, uh, concerning, concerning SCIENTISTS. Oooo, “Scientists.” That word. Strikes fear into the heart of some, and amazement into the heart of, well, me. And probably you, since you are here today in this planetarium, listening to me go on and on about my love for this… hang on a sec, let me… okay, so, we often find people BLAMING scientists for, for, for, these discoveries and inventions… being misused or being funded for misuse. We must remember that the discovery itself is not moral or immoral, it is the application of said discovery that is required to be held to that standard. Also, how cool are wheels on busses, right? And circles, in general. The fact that you can take a circle and divide it by its radius and you get pi, everytime, is astounding to me. Gives me chills every time.

More at the link. And for those keeping score, this is the second week in a row that I’ve featured NdGT on Friday Link Love. Why? Because he’s kind of a big deal.

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The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen — That Organic Girl

This post offers a list of foods that are most important to buy organic (if possible) and a list of foods for which organic isn’t that critical.

I’m a pretty half-***ed consumer when it comes to organic goods—I basically get what’s available and what my kids are likely to eat. (Caroline just informed me that she no longer likes the big three: apples, oranges, or bananas. C’mon, WORK WITH ME KID.)

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Speaking of food,

The Anti-Diet — The Londoner

As I wrote on my Pinterest boards, “Best overview I’ve read on how to lose weight without dieting. Covers exercise, emotionally based eating, sustaining a discipline, the importance of enjoying food… I don’t know about the cravings piece (e.g. if you crave carbonated drinks you need more calcium) but it’s interesting.”

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Traditional Marriage: One Man, Many Women, Some Girls, Some Slaves — Religion Dispatches

Just so we’re clear:

Time to break out your Bible, Mr. Perkins! Abraham had two wives, Sarah and her handmaiden Hagar. King Solomon had 700 wives, plus 300 concubines and slaves. Jacob, the patriarch who gives Israel its name, had two wives and two concubines. In a humanist vein, Exodus 21:10 warns that when men take additional wives, they must still provide for their previous one. (Exodus 21:16 adds that if a man seduces a virgin and has sex with her, he has to marry her, too.)

But that’s not all. In biblical society, when you conquered another city, tribe, or nation, the victorious men would “win” their defeated foes’ wives as part of the spoils. It also commanded levirate marriage, the system wherein, if a man died, his younger brother would have to marry his widow and produce heirs with her who would be considered the older brother’s descendants. Now that’s traditional marriage!

More. Much more.

Last week a conservative member of my denomination told NPR, “From the Old Testament and throughout the New Testament, the only sexual relationships that are affirmed in scripture are those in the context of marriage between one man and one woman.” To quote my friend Michael: biblical scholarship FAIL.

You want to be against gay marriage? You can do that. But the Bible doesn’t help you as much as you think it does.

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And just for fun, and to fill my quota on posts from Colossal:

Gale-Force Winds Directly to the Face — Colossal

So very entertaining and bizarre. It’s exactly what it sounds like:

Have a great weekend, all.

Friday Link Love

The First Supper by Jane Evershed

Perhaps the World Ends Here — Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

Susan Olson recently linked to this poem and it’s been echoing in my mind. Reminds me of Bruce Cockburn’s song “Last Night of the World”:

If this were the last night of the world
What would I do?
What would I do that was different
Unless it was champagne with you?

I’m thankful that our family is in a season in which all five of us eat together at least six nights a week.

It will not always be thus.

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The Most Astounding Fact — Neil deGrasse Tyson

This has been making the rounds, but if you haven’t seen it:

Bonus link: Listen to physicist James Gates’s interview on On Being. I didn’t understand a lot of it. But I liked it nonetheless.

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The Six Secrets the Girl Scouts Have Kept for a Century — WSJ

How is this single-sex organization based on principles begun before the first World War able to remain vital in the twenty first century? How much of it would Juliette Gordon Low recognize? What are the secrets to the continued success of Girl Scouting?

One thing that was not mentioned in the article is that the uniform is updated regularly. I’m not kidding. That seems very superficial but it is a huge symbolic statement that the Girl Scouts are not stuck in the past.

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Do As Franzen Does. Do What You Like — Roxane Gay

Alas, there’s been yet another installment of Famous Author Disparaging Social Media. I love this response:

Is anyone really using Twitter to craft complex rhetorical arguments? What does responsibility have to do with chattering online? It’s like Franzen is saying, “I cannot swim in my car and therefore my car is not useful.” He doesn’t understand what Twitter is for. Of course he dislikes it. He’s working from a place of profound ignorance. His stance is one of those things where you have to say, “There, there, Mr. Franzen, here is your Ovaltine.”

Heh.

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And lastly, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, my friend Stacey posted this recipe to Facebook earlier this week:

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

I’m still not eating dessert during Lent, but o frabjous day, every Sunday is a mini-Easter! And Oh Em Gee:

These cupcakes consist of a Guinness-chocolate cake base, which has a wonderful depth of flavor and is also supremely moist. The centers of the cupcakes are cut out and filled with a chocolate ganache that has been spiked with Irish whiskey. And to top it all off, the frosting is my favorite vanilla buttercream that has been doused with a serious amount of Baileys Irish Cream.

I’m eatin’ that.

May you too have a delicious weekend.