Friday, February 28, 2014

Bananas, warts and what we do for love

I thought a wart away once.

Scoff if you will, but I thought it away.

It gripped my big toe for weeks, like stubborn toad.  Oh!  I hated that wart!  In the summer of my 15th year, I was certain that because of it, I was unpopular and unlovable. 

After worrying it and worrying over it, I decided to will it away.

Each time that ugly warty growth came into my mind, I refused to look at it.  Instead of touching it and picking at it and coating it with potions and poultices, I said to myself in a queenly manner, “The next time I look, it will be gone.” 

I repeated that mantra whenever I thought of the thing.  And I didn’t let myself look its way for a long, long time…two weeks, two months, maybe more. 

I went about my self-conscious lovelorn life and my adolescent preoccupation with the wart faded.  Then one day I couldn’t remember the last time I’d thought of the wart or glanced in its direction. 
So cautiously, I took a peek…And it was gone!

Really.  Just like that.

Of course I was a kid then.  A teenager.  Full of wonder and possibilities.  Short on skepticism.  That’s probably why my power-of-positive-thinking experiment worked. 

Now, as an adult, miracles are harder to come by.  I’m certain that I could not think away a gnat even though it was going to go on its own.  I’ve tried to ignore out of existence the stream of telemarketers who call me daily, to no avail.  They just keep calling. 

Clearly, matter has the upper hand over my curmudgeonly mind.

That’s why I was most interested in a recent online article:  “18 Surprising Home Uses for Banana Peels.”

Number one on the list – Polish shoes.  Wow!  That is surprising.  And so simple: “Just rub the inside of the peel on your shoe, then buff it with a soft cloth.” 

Presumably a frugal schmo would employ a peel thusly to save money on shoe polish which also does a fine job of polishing shoes.  Although a cursory analysis would show that per pound and amortized over time, the product designed for the job likely comes out well ahead of the banana on price and effectiveness.  Not to mention weirdness.

Let’s see, #2.  Tenderize meat.  OK!  Another revelation.  I mean, who knew? 

Just “add a ripe banana peel to a roasting pan to keep boneless, skinless cuts of meat from toughening up and drying out during cooking.”

Another option would be not to overcook those expensive cuts of meat.  Just sayin’.

Why, look here:  A banana peel will whiten your teeth if you will only rub it on them for about two minutes every time you brush to let the manganese, magnesium and potassium help brighten the enamel.  Of course if not rinsed thoroughly, your toothbrush will become clogged with banana peel pulp, forming a crusty bulb.

Feed roses; polish silverware, deter aphids, attract butterflies!  OMG and wow and big wow!  I shan’t regard a limp peel in the same cavalier manner from this day forward.

And here’s the clincher:  #13?  That’s right!  You can use a banana peel to remove warts!

“Tape a piece of banana peel to the wart overnight for about a week and the potassium will eliminate the outbreak and prevent its return.”  Hallelujah and hooray!

Now editor and writer Ellen Sturm Niz doesn’t specify if the warty respondent should tape the same piece of banana peel to that ugly offender night after night, or if a fresh piece of peel is called for.  I’d say it makes a difference, certainly in a person’s banana consumption.

And successful taping is not a given.  A banana peel is slippery after all.  Better to completely encircle the toe with the peel and tape around it and over the top.  One of those metal splints would be helpful.  That and a couple of rubber bands should do it.

Or, in fairness, maybe the wart could provide its own traction, being so…warty.  Maybe it would hold the banana peel in place, thereby insuring its own demise.  The irony!

In any event, it’s worth it, right?  It’s a small price to pay.  I’d do it – for love.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

Keeping your word v. Sunk Cost Fallacy

I hate to say it, but my father-in-law lives in the realm of the Sunk Cost Fallacy.

Retired over thirty years, he continues to chip away at one of his stated goals for his retirement:  Read the classics!

An admirable goal, to be sure.  But realistic?  Let’s just see:

If I know him, he began his quest systematically.  Unfortunately, he must have referred to the Deliberately Daunting List of Recommended Reading.  Or maybe it was the Erudite Compendium of Works Snooty People Claim to Be Knowledgeable About. 

In any event, naive and enthusiastic, he embarked on his mission with Anna Karenina; I think that must have been in 1985. 

Now at 93, he’s been slogging away at it ever since with the grim determination of a Civil War soldier in the winter of 1861:  Keep moving or die.  No matter how dense or complex or tedious or thankless.  Must.  Keep.  Reading.

He actually finished Anna Karenina recently – or claims to have finished it.  Then, alleging that it was a good read, he pushed it off on me!

To be polite, I began thumbing through the pages in his presence. 

I found that contrary to popular myth, the book is not 800 pages of singled spaced tiny font drudgery; it is only 754 pages! 

The last 46 pages constitute End Notes provided to assist the reader with such things as the myriad Biblical references, the Russian method of nomenclature – FYI – they use both their Christian first names and the patronymic “son of” (-yevitch) or “daughter of (-yevna) combined with the father’s first name, and of course translations of Italian arising from multiple allusions to certain operas, for example.

This is not to mention my father-in-law’s own hand written notes, stuffed in at page 512 where he must have become so bogged down that he felt compelled to create a sort of family tree in order to track the cast of characters:  “Dolly (Darya Alexandrovna) is Stepan’s wife,” he wrote.  “Anna is Stepan’s (Stepan Arkadyfuitch’s) sister.  Anna is Alexei’s (Alexei Alexandrovitch Karenin’s) wife.” 

But even this effort trails off into fractured and cryptic scribbling:  “Brother of Levin * Princess Tverskaya (Betsy).”

Oh goody.

This formidable tome opens with a biography of Tolstoy prefacing a timeline of events, 1828 to 1910, titled “The World of Leo Tolstoy and Anna Karenina” followed by a fifteen page introduction in which we are told that like Tolstoy’s life, his novels are “expansive, complex, ambiguous [and] profound.”

OK, I say.  Well done, Mr. Tolstoy.  Good for you.

Bad for those who labor under the Sunk Cost Fallacy.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy of thinking says that when we invest time, money, or effort into something, we don't like to see that investment go to waste, even if the task or goal is no longer worth the cost.  Ahem.

Or, as Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains, "We refuse to cut losses when doing so would admit failure; we are biased against actions that could lead to regret."

That’s what bothers me about Anna Karenina and the fact that my beloved father-in-law is the one who put her into my hands:  He wants me to read it and I might be a Sunk Cost Fallacy kind of thinker too.

Pretty sure that's why I ate all that expensive escargot that time even though, as an Oklahoma girl, I knew it really did taste like dirt.  Sunk Cost Fallacy would also explain why I keep watching “Love It or List It” in spite of the fact that those snarky people are enormously irritating. 

I’m afraid I’ll start Anna Karenina because I want to please my husband’s father and then I will have to keep reading it until one of us, the book itself or I, crumple into a musty heap of desiccated dust.

How do you cut and run on a classic you’ve told a sweet man you’ll read?

Is there a point of no return with Tolstoy?

But OK.  Here we go – Part One, Chapter 1:  “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Oh no…he’s off to a pretty good start.  What am I supposed to do now?  Quit in the middle?!

Friday, February 14, 2014

High fructose corn syrup made me stupid

But it’s not my fault!  Nobody told me concentrated sugar water would erode my noodle.
Oh, they told me it would keep me awake until it made me crash.  They said it would confuse my pancreas and distort my skinny jeans. 
But only now, well past the point of no return, do they tell me it’s eating away at my brainpower!
Well that’s just great.  I didn’t have gray matter to spare in the first place, and now this:  According to researchers at the University of California Los Angeles, a steady diet of high-fructose corn syrup saps lab rats’ memories.

And you know what that means!  Yep!  Oh…I forgot.  It’ll come to me.  Just hang in.

In a diabolical experiment, the university rats first completed a five-day training session in a complicated maze.  That’s right.  A little rat boot camp with UCLA “scientists” as drill sergeants.
“Where are you going Ratzo?  To the left?  To the left?  To the left, Sir!  I can’t HEAR you!  Drop and give me twenty!”
Then these sickos fed the rats a solution containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) — a common ingredient in processed foods — as their drinking water for a full six weeks!  One group of rats was supplemented with brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids; the other group was not.
Then, after a month and a half of non-stop rodent Gatorade, the rats were placed back in the maze to see how they fared.  
Well how would you do?  Six steady weeks of a syrup-induced stupor without so much as a spin on the exercise wheel before being herded back into a labyrinth by a tormentor with a spotlight, a stopwatch and a little rat whip!
“The omega-3 deprived animals were slower and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity,” said Professor of Neurosurgery Fernando Gomez-Pinilla at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA while clicking his tongue, shaking his head and making a little checkmark on his clipboard.
Thank you, Fernando!  They were tubby too, I’ll bet.  No wonder they were slow – wobbling through that warren in a sugar-saturated haze!  And their little rat teeth were probably rotten.  Really!
But OK.  Point taken.  I will curtail my maze-running.
Ha ha!  I’m kidding!  Of course!  I’ll cut back on my Powerade.  My All Sport. My Cytomax.
All right.  I don’t drink any of those things because I don’t work out hard enough to elevate my metabolism, let alone require enhanced levels of carbohydrates.  I mean Pilates, really.  Hardly a sweat drencher.
Still, I’ve learned my lesson.  All that Christmas candy must be the reason I can’t do the math required to raise my heart rate.
Oh yeah.  You can’t just hit the rat maze, er, treadmill and expect results!  You have to do some calculating to make your time at the gym worthwhile.
All the experts say to get a heart rate monitor - HRM.  Your HRM tracks exercise intensity and can motivate you to work harder.  "Most people don't work out as hard as they think they do," says Tom Holland, Connecticut-based running coach and author of Beat the Gym: Personal Trainer Secrets--Without the Personal Trainer Price Tag.
And in order to use the HRM, you have to figure out your MHR (maximum heart rate).  To do that, you subtract your age from 220.  Why, no one knows and it’s just as well.  No one really cares either.  It’s a magic number OK? 
Once you have your MHR, use it to vary your workouts, by plugging it into your HRM.  I mean duh!
"You want to vary your intensity throughout the week," says Holland.  “Most days should be easy/endurance days where you hit 50 to 60 percent of your MHR.  But, make sure you sprinkle in a few hard days where you bring your heart rate up to 75 to 80 percent of your MHR.”    
So let’s see, that’s, 220-63 x 80% = easy peasy lemon squeezy.  Then enter that into the equation; divide by pi; square it; round it up to the nearest decimal; do si do and there you go! 
But I drank all that HFCS for all that time!  And now my HRM’s shorted out trying to calculate my MHR.

No wonder I’m out of shape.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tiptoe-ing through "O"

I've had it with Oprah

Mind you, I used to love her. 

I used to imagine sitting in one of those over-sized chairs on her set and explaining where I get the ideas for my columns. 

“Oh, they are everywhere!”  I’d say happily.  Then, in my wisdom, I’d add, “The personal is the universal.”  She’d nod knowingly to the audience – so true!

“Maybe I’ll write about this visit with you, Oprah, but the column would focus on a chia seed stuck in my teeth during our interview, not the obvious coolness of meeting you!”

She’d have to laugh and relax and think I’m just as cool in my own way.  Someone noteworthy.  My column would get the Oprah bump and I’d be on my way.

Occasionally I envisioned sitting next to her on an airplane.  This of course was back in my na├»ve days when I dreamed that I would fly First Class and that she would fly commercial.

In this fantasy, I wouldn’t be fawning or obsequious at all.  No.  I wouldn't even ask for her autograph.  We would be equal in conversation and at some point, maybe over the Grand Canyon, she would turn to me and say something like, “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this about Stedman and me.  Gayle doesn’t even know this part of our relationship!”

Then, when the flight attendants began to prepare for landing, I’d ask one of them to take our picture.  Later, when I posted it on Facebook, you would see that she was leaning toward me.

But that’s all over.  Now she just makes me mad.

My imaginary friendship started to disintegrate when a friend gave me a subscription to Oprah’smagazine, “O.”  The first issue arrived this month and Oprah’s pretty much in my face with all her glossy billionaire-y exuberance.

All right – on the one hand, you still have to admire her accomplishments.  Recognize her altruism.

On the other hand it seems pretty clear that in this publication at least, she has lost her perspective.

At the table of contents she is already annoying us common folks!

For example, in the Featured section we find – “Shoes:  A Love Story.  The unabashedly shoe-obsessed Sarah Jessica Parker gives…a walking tour of her new line of fabulous footwear.”

So I went there.

Wow.  Look at all those shoes that NO ONE should wear.  Ever.  Even though they’re really cute and sexy and named after all the people who inspired Sarah but we don’t recognize because we’re not ‘in’ enough to know the greats by their first names and we live in the world where your heels have to make solid contact with the ground to create balance for your torso.

And look at all these pictures of Sarah putting stilettos on Gayle, or modeling stilettos with Gayle or debating with Gayle the merits of T-straps versus ankle straps.

Next issue?  Bank on it – Oprah will run an article about how to improve your posture and soothe your aching back.

The familiar cast of helpers is there, but even they seem too shiny to trust:  Dr. Phil is promoting his new interview show where “the revelations often become news!” 

And Dr. Oz looks suspiciously smooth-skinned and flaw-free.  Argh!

What’s this?  An article called “Why It’s Worth It,” explaining how to rationalize the $950 expense of a charm bracelet?!  You pro-rate it, of course! 

OK.  I have to admit this is a strategy I employ to justify my splurges.  I guess I’m just mad because I can never really splurge like Oprah splurges. 

Darn it!  Oprah’s no longer a woman of the people.  This stuff in not relatable!

But wait!  Here’s an article that I can connect to:  “Cloudy…with a Chance of Rage?”  Yeah.  That sounds like me!  I could use a quick fix for my grumpy disposition.

And this is nice:  My crankiness has its own name:  Angry Woman Syndrome. 

Maybe she knows me after all!   

And the solutions to AWS?  Why the old tried and true:  walk it off, take 10 deep breaths, and “focus on the positive to prevent ‘ragey’ feelings from taking hold.”

I’ll have to pick my way through “O” to do that.

And I may not smack her after all.