Lifestyle, Work

End of PhD Year 1, Traveling, & Other Plans

I have been woefully inactive on here recently, so I thought I would do a little update. It’s almost like grad school takes up a lot of your time! Actually, though, I am a firm believer that if you want to make time for something, you can, and it has been one of my goals to make more time for blogging and other aspects of my creative life. I’m hoping that if I create that habit now, it will be easier to maintain when life picks back up again.

But, life is moving at a bit of a slower pace now, because it is summer! I finished the first year of grad school! This year, my mind was stretched in ways I never knew it could be. When I was apprised of the existence of 4 (+) – dimensional graphs, I felt like a whole new dimension was added to my brain as well. In a sense, the transition to grad school from undergrad wasn’t all that drastic for me. At college, my classes were also small group seminars and I took it really seriously so the workload, while more challenging now, wasn’t too different either. But, I definitely feel like I am learning how to “think like an academic,” and I now see what all those gradcafe threads meant when they referred to the academic socialization process. (Note: this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I think it is kind of inevitable when you get a bunch of smart people together focused on the same goal.) (Note also: if you are a prospective grad student, save yourself and don’t even go on gradcafe.)

Anyway, while it feels like an accomplishment to have finished this year successfully, there is still a long way to go. As a PhD student, one eventually must figure out what their own research will be about. I have a very amorphous idea of what I want to study long-term (and this is a generous characterization). So, this summer, one of my goals is to take time to read a lot of the literature in my area of interest (media/ political communication/ political psychology, etc.), given that not everything makes its way to my class syllabi. I think doing this will help me solidify, or rule out, what I think I want to study. Also, we underestimate how important regular reading is for our mental acuity. I.e., I took 2 weeks off for vacation and to relax, and I tried to read an academic article and my brain was like “what is this?” — so I am going to try to avoid that.

Speaking of vacation, I went to Punta Cana! My boyfriend, 2 of our friends and I all went as a sort of graduation celebration. Here are a few pictures. It was very awesome. If I could live in a tropical climate year round, I totally would.

 

 

In terms of the rest of the summer, here are some things that will be taking up a lot of my time:

  • fitness — I was getting in pretty good shape prior to vacation and, well, you can guess how that turned out ūüôā
  • moving!
  • writing — whether for this blog or for potential research projects
  • cooking and baking — I am hoping to have some new summer recipe ideas to share
  • music — I have had an on- and off- relationship with my guitar, but I miss the days when I played every day. It is therapeutic.
  • exploring DC museums that I have not visited yet
  • pool — yes, I really am just trying to pretend I’m still on an island somewhere, but you have to do what you have to do to make reading about selective exposure interesting in the 80 degree weather.
  • more reading, but for fun! I have not had this much flexibility with my own time for over 7 years to be honest, so I want to indulge in books I haven’t had the chance to get to.

Of course, I am sure Netflix will make its way into this list somehow– it always does. But I feel energized and motivated to try new things and also make this a productive summer, so I am looking forward to sharing what that looks like.

-AK

Lifestyle

Living like a tourist

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

I am currently in Germany. Shout out to my boyfriend and his extremely generous family for allowing me to join their vacation, this is one of the most eye-opening and fun experiences I have had in a long time and I am very thankful. I feel very lucky to be experiencing new things, as this is my first time traveling internationally. Although I have always enjoyed traveling, the time I have spent here so far has led me to realize that the mindset that we tend to adopt when we are “tourists” could inform the way I approach my “regular” daily routine.

When people go on vacation, they often schedule every bit of their time. It isn’t the schedule that is important here; that is a byproduct of a certain understanding that I think we should try to keep in mind day-to-day. It is the implicit value that people place on the small amount of time that they have to enjoy a new place which leads them to plan wisely. When we go somewhere new, we know that our time is limited and that there is much to see and do, so we often feel guilty or wasteful sitting around and “doing nothing” instead of making plans and actually experiencing the world around us. We do this even when we are tired or “don’t feel like it,” because we recognize that time is finite. However, when we are at home, perhaps during the work or school week, we often resort to a routine that is void of this type of curiosity and exploration.

It is understandable. For me, personally, I am introverted and I also tend to over-work myself when it comes to school and other priorities. This means that at the end of the “work” day, or even the week, I tend to be exhausted and not really feel like going anywhere or doing anything. There have been times when friends or family have visited me and we have sat in my apartment watching TV or talking, and while there is nothing wrong with doing low-key activities that provide you with enjoyment, I look back and think “wow, I am living in DC with a crazy amount of museums, monuments, restaurants, and other exciting events at my disposal every single day, and I really just spent that night sitting in my apartment.” Like I said, this is okay to do some of the time, but I am ready to branch out from that.

Even when we are not traveling, our time in a certain location or “season” of life is still finite, it just doesn’t always feel like it. It is usually life circumstances that bring us to a certain location (jobs, school, marriage, divorce, or simply being born somewhere). Because of this, and because we often do not make an intentional choice to live in a certain area– although there are, of course, exceptions– I believe that we take the places we see as “home” for granted. We often see them as a part of our daily routine, as familiar, and we forget that there are still things to explore.

This is why I want to adopt more of a “tourist” mindset in my everyday life. Instead of automatically going home to watch Netflix after a long day, I want to take more walks around the national mall. Instead of dwelling in anxiety about the details of plans (how will I get there, how long will it take, is it weird if I go alone, do I have time, what about this other project I need to do, ???), I want to spend more weekends just waking up and going, and seeing where the day takes me. I want to get back into the routine of going for walks/ runs around where I live to find new restaurants, parks, and all of the other little things that apparently just exist around me without my appreciation. You get the idea. I also want to take time to branch out from my local area, as well, but it seems like the natural place to start.

One of my (vague) New Years resolutions for this year was to take opportunities. I know that I often turn down social events or other plans because, when I am uncertain in life, I resort to what is comfortable and easy. However, I want to change that tendency. It doesn’t mean I always need to be “busy,” but I want to be more intentional about how I spend my time. If I find myself absorbed in 6 episodes of Greys Anatomy or scrolling through Twitter for an hour, I want it to be a conscious choice, not the result of a habit, fear or anxiety, or a lack of awareness of the opportunity cost of that choice. I want to be as curious about the world that is around me every day as I am about the world that is not, since it is mostly by chance that I am where I am at any given point in time. And I want to be more conscious about turning that curiosity into action, instead of just dreaming about doing so.

Do you have any tips on making the most of your “normal” days? What do you do to immerse yourself in the area where you live?

-AK

P.S. Here are some pictures I have taken so far, although I may post more about this later. ūüôā

 

 

Uncategorized

On “positivity”

*I apologize in advance for the number of times I write the word “positive” in this post, it is positively excessive. Also if you think self-help books, introspection, etc. are dumb, you may not be interested in this post*

I have always prided myself in being a “positive” person, but recently, I have learned that there are a lot of misconceptions associated with this characterization. Either that, or my understanding of the term is different from others’. I first realized the power of consciously adopting a “positive” mindset on my own happiness, productivity, and appreciation for life around the beginning of high school. I noticed that, if I could find something to look forward to or to be happy about, the hard things in life became easier. I even started a blog at one point called “powerfully positive” (cringe). So, I have been intentional about maintaining a “positive” mindset for quite some time, but recently I have seen a wave of opinions on the internet that seem to discourage people from doing so. I recognize some potential issues with the way positivity is commonly conceptualized (hence the quotation marks), but I also think some criticisms are founded in misunderstandings. As somebody who tends to be outspoken about my feelings on being optimistic, I feel compelled to share my thoughts, which are somewhat mixed.

I began to reassess my thoughts on positivity as a broad concept, and on its actual effects, when I listened to the audiobook for Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.” The essence of this book is that people, seeking happier lives, follow the advice of self-help gurus and others who simply echo conventional wisdom about “trying to be ‘positive’ all the time”– and that this advice fails them because it is an unrealistic and unsustainable approach to life. Here’s an excerpt from the description:

” Manson makes the argument, backed both by academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach lemons better. Human beings are flawed and limited‚ÄĒ”not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.” Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek. “

After having read (listened to) the book, my main issue with Manson’s argument stems from his understanding of what the “point” of being positive is. I don’t disagree with his perspective on embracing the negative aspects of life so as to change them– in fact, I think that is a necessary step. And in general, his book is a unique take in the “self-help” genre, so I do recommend reading it. However, he, and many other critics, seem to believe that positivity is an intended cure for the negative aspects of one’s life. I’m not too sure how they envision the often-prescribed mentality playing out, but I think it might be something along the lines of “if something goes bad in your life, you are supposed to just smile and stay positive and pretend/ convince yourself that you are not upset, hurt, angry, *insert other negative emotion here*.” They think this is bad. And it would be bad, if that were the intention of those recommending a more positive outlook. This would not be a helpful mindset to adopt. Pushing real and legitimate feelings under the rug would help nobody as they would likely resurface.

But in fact, while this widespread misconception of “positivity” exists, this has never been my understanding of how a positive mindset is intended to be incorporated. To me, its foundation is a basic, conscious appreciation for life, one’s health, one’s opportunities, food, sleep, water, etc. What I have ingrained into my own mind is that, as long as my basic needs are met, anything else is essentially extra. With this mindset, I almost never lose. I remind myself that there is always someone out there who would give a lot to be in my position. This is¬†not meant to perpetuate an argument that, just because somebody is in a “better” position in life than somebody else, their problems are “illegitimate”; everybody has their own struggles. The idea is also not to¬†convince oneself that everything is okay, or to ignore problems. The idea is to comfort¬†oneself by¬†recognizing the fact that, when your basic needs are met, everything¬†will be okay, even if it doesn’t feel like it right at that moment because of some circumstance that is less than ideal. Comforting oneself with this fact leads to a more sane mental state and a more neutral internalization of the events that occur in our lives. It means that when something goes wrong, one need not break down or find themselves in a rock bottom state mentally– instead, they can take things as they come, and respond in the most reasonable, rational, effective, helpful way for the situation at hand, and make the most of it.¬†And I have noticed, in fact, that those who suffer significantly in life are often the people who are the most outwardly positive about life.

Thus, positivity is a mindset, one that facilitates actions to improve one’s life. Thinking positively isn’t about complacency, and it isn’t a magical solution or a naive way of thinking. It is a mentality that allows one to be hopeful instead of hopeless. One can be sad, or even depressed, and still think positively (although it may be more difficult to garner the energy or desire to do so). One’s chemical state or mental health is, by definition, out of his/her conscious control. One’s outlook is within his/her conscious control, which is exactly why the two can coexist and why somebody can be both suffering emotionally or physically and consciously positive at the same time. The idea, for example, is that being consciously “positive” and depressed is still healthier, and will lead to better outcomes, than being consciously “negative” and depressed.

So, in general, positivity is not a cure, but has the potential to help in a variety of situations. In fact, the point in my writing this is to challenge the understanding that positivity is intended to “fix” one’s problems. Most notably, in the case of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, a “positive outlook” is never a cure, but just one possible part of a remedy. I don’t think anybody who is informed about mental health would argue that a person could just “think positively” to cure their mental health issues, but many believe that this is the intent of those promoting a positive outlook, due (I believe, although I’m not positive ūüėČ ) to misconceptions regarding the¬†nature and purpose¬†of intentional positivity.

Although I never thought it would be controversial to promote a mindset that is intended to facilitate happiness, I have come across many alternative viewpoints recently. I think it is a good thing, though, for those who are interested to partake in these conversations about how one’s outlook affects his or her life and overall happiness. Perhaps there’s a normative question about how important “happiness” really is. For example, some may gain more utility from feeling another emotion. I know that for me, personally, happiness definitely improves my overall utility in life. It’s completely okay to disagree that positivity is even helpful; there is room for debate on the extent to which it really facilitates the actionable changes needed to better one’s state in life, which likely varies on an individual basis. However, it is unhelpful to perpetuate unnecessary hindrances to happiness based upon a misunderstanding of what it really means to try to “be positive.” This is just my interpretation of what that really means, but I would love to continue this conversation if anybody has a different take. Please comment with any thoughts you have, because I am genuinely curious how others feel about this issue which has, until recently, seemed like a no-brainer to me!

-AK

Lifestyle

(kind of) a life update

I started this blog with the intent of using it as sort of an online diary, but so far I have only written about things that I thought would be useful or interesting to other people. However, I want to be able to look back at this record and see my own personal changes and growth, as well. Not to be morbid or anything, but getting in a car accident earlier this year reminded me, in a weird way, how short and unpredictable life is, and it made me realize how important it feels to me to “leave behind” some sort of record of my thoughts.

In retrospect, it wasn’t that severe, considering that I am sitting here typing this and am completely fine. But since that experience, and given the crazy things that we hear all the time in the news these days, I can’t help but feel like life is too short to hold back. That goes for holding back from what you really want to say in any situation, holding back from telling a loved one how much they mean to you, holding back because you’re scared, holding back because you “don’t feel like it,” holding back from taking small steps to chase your dreams in life… You get the idea. The phrase “holding back” is pretty perfect because we really are what’s holding ourselves back from achieving, in many cases. Anyway, the later it gets, the more my writing becomes a stream of consciousness. In the interest of not drowning in said stream, here’s a little update on my life.

It’s a Sunday night. I am sitting in my bed, pretty content because I did my usual Sunday routine of meal prepping, cleaning, and just getting ready for the week. Very excited for this week’s meals:
I mixed oats up with some protein powder, cashews, walnuts, cocoa powder and PB powder for breakfast.
Lunch: tofu in peri peri sauce (I charred the red peppers on the stove to get the skins off of them for this sauce, and oh boy that was an adventure, can someone please tell me how I’ve set the smoke alarm off making rice before but it didn’t detect this?), with lemon herb quinoa and red cabbage and cherry tomatoes on a bed of spinach. (I love when my food is rainbow.)
For dinner, I made sweet potato “boats” with chili and a cashew cream sauce (because the chili is very spicy, and I am very weak.)

However, while I may feel like I have the small things together (tiny victories!), there’s an overarching feeling of work left unfinished. That’s pretty much a constant in grad school, from what I can tell so far. No matter how much time I spend reading, there’s always more I could be doing. Every time I write a paper, even just the short ones I’ve done so far, I always feel as if it could be a little bit better, but, oh wait, I forgot about another assignment that’s due tomorrow and I don’t have time to worry about the details of this one. And I consider myself someone who plans ahead ~relatively well.~

Alas, it seems like that is just a part of life. I mean, is there anybody who goes to sleep at night knowing that everything is “done?” I don’t think so. I think that becoming comfortable with imperfection and incomplete goals [while still being on the way to achieving them] is pretty key to mental well-being as well as to success.

I tend to be a perfectionist, and I’m no stranger to a long to-do list + a busy schedule, but I find myself looking back at my college days and wondering how I did it all, in addition to feeling challenged by this seemingly never-ending amount of work. The knowledge that all of my work for the semester will be complete in less than two months is both intimidating and reassuring.

More on my day to day life so far, though. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by some of the smartest people I have met. The people in my program have all been not only welcoming and kind, but genuinely interesting and admirably intelligent. It is just so cool to be able to learn in an environment where everybody can bring their unique perspective to a discussion, and everybody else knows a little more, or has maybe reassessed or reaffirmed their thoughts, walking away from it.

Not only that, but I really can’t complain about the way I spend my time. I mean, it definitely would not be enjoyable for some people, but I’m quite content with my daily life right now. It’s about a 10 minute walk to the metro from my apartment. Where I live is a little more residential and laid back, but the area around the university is obviously more urban. I enjoy experiencing that contrast on a day-to-day basis, even if I don’t always enjoy how long the metro ride can sometimes take. I can usually find a quiet place on campus to eat lunch and just take some time to think. I spend my days reading endlessly, but it’s reading about things that I find generally interesting and important. I love when I have the opportunity to write. There are so many coffee shops around. I can walk a few blocks away from campus and chill with Lincoln at his monument whenever I want.¬† I can, for the most part, choose my schedule. And even though I’m having to re-learn math (this is actually really hard for me), I can feel my mental abilities being stretched in different directions and that’s satisfying to me.

So while I’m overwhelmed, I try to remind myself that it is an overwhelm that I chose for myself, and that harboring any negative feelings will not change the reality of how much work there usually is to do, and how few hours the days can feel like they have. We all really do have the same 24 hours, and, unlike the “ultra-productive” CEOs of the world, I may not have a bunch of people I can delegate tasks to, but I can definitely choose to prioritize the ones that matter to me. As for the ones that don’t, as I’m pretty sure Buddha once said: flat,800x800,075,t.u1.jpg

It sounds crazy to just let something “go,” especially if it feels like an obligation or a responsibility. But if you truly do not have the time for something, then you certainly do not have the time to dwell on it mentally, either. If you have time to dwell, you have time to do; if you don’t have time to do, don’t dwell. (I just made that up, and I like it.)

Also, a note about sleep, which is what I am going to attempt to do after writing this… At this point in my life, sleep is so difficult for me, and I do not know why. I have been finding it difficult to fall asleep, even more difficult to wake up, and have just felt tired overall. We all know this isn’t helping my caffeine habits. It’s pretty sudden, too. It seems like no matter how much or how little I sleep, I just can’t get myself to wake up in the morning. If anyone knows why this might be, I would love input… (I try to avoid googling things like this. Obviously I would just end up convincing myself I have every ailment listed on WebMD.)

I guess this update is a little mundane. But, so is most of life, and we have to find a way to see the beauty in it.

-AK

Health

Is Chlorophyll Just for Plants?

I’ve always found new and (sometimes) strange health fads to be interesting and appealing. But… drinking liquid chlorophyll? Why would anybody even do that?

This summer, I learned about some of the health benefits of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is considered a “superfood,” and I had read articles suggesting that taking it in liquid form could lead to anti-inflammatory effects, help fight cancer, accelerate wound healing, improve digestion and skin health, and naturally prevent odors. There are also claims that it leads to weight loss, but given a basic understanding of nutrition, I’m generally pretty wary of that kind of claim. At the very least, studies showed that it wasn’t¬†harmful, so I decided to give it a try myself and see if I noticed any changes.

I purchased a bottle of liquid chlorophyll at The Vitamin Shoppe for $10 and I still have it. I can’t find the exact bottle online — it is their generic brand pictured in this post — but you can find the drops elsewhere, including Amazon (not endorsing this particular brand, there are various similar options). This particular example is about $14, and holds almost 100 servings.

I personally chose to incorporate this into my daily routine by adding a few drops to my water in the morning, and sometimes having a second glass of chlorophyll water at some point throughout the day. I also experimented with adding chlorophyll to some of my smoothies. This effectively turned them into green smoothies, without involving actual greens. However, as I’m not a scientist, I can’t speak to whether blending the drops might decrease their effectiveness. I just know it tasted good and made my smoothies feel even healthier. *shrugging emoji*

My overall verdict is that this purchase was worth it, at least for me! Here is a little of what I personally experienced:

Increased energy: I’m definitely a coffee person (this is well established). However, I typically try to drink at least 12 oz of water in the morning before I have coffee. When I tried adding a few drops of liquid chlorophyll to my water, it seemed to delay the pounding headache that I would usually get if I didn’t drink coffee by a certain time. (Bad, I know.) It wasn’t a substitute, but it did help me feel more “alive” before my AM caffeine session.

Incentivized me to drink more water: This might vary depending upon the type of chlorophyll concentrate one uses, but I found that the drops I used added a very slight, minty taste to my water that made it more enjoyable to drink, and was more natural than Crystal Light.

Skin: When I started drinking this, I genuinely did notice an improvement in my skin. I felt that it became clearer and less dull. This, however, could have been attributable to the fact that, as I mentioned, drinking chlorophyll water encouraged drinking more water overall, which is generally beneficial for your skin. Either way, the end result was that it helped.

Speeds up healing:¬†While I can’t be 100% sure it was the chlorophyll water, I had longish-term injuries that¬†definitely improved and began to heal themselves in a way that was almost unbelievable when I began drinking it, and it was not during a time when I made any other major changes, so this is the only thing I can think of that might have caused it. Without going into too much detail, I would vouch for this benefit from my own experience.

Placebo effect?: Of course, perhaps these benefits I claim to have experienced could all be due to some placebo effect. I think the chances of that are less likely since I had that possibility in mind than if I had not, so I’m cautious about making conclusions… yet, even if it is just a mind trick, if it’s a beneficial mind trick, that’s not so bad, right? ūüėČ I suppose the only way to know for sure would be for more people to try it and share their experience.

I should also say that some of the alleged benefits of chlorophyll are longer-term, preventative, or otherwise unable to be encompassed by anecdotal accounts. For example, it has been argued that chlorophyll strengthens bones, treats anemia, prevents kidney stones, balances hormones, and boosts immunity.

Of course, there’s no miracle drug, supplement, chemical, food, etc. that a person can ingest and suddenly experience optimum health. It’s all about overall balance. I would liken drinking chlorophyll water to drinking green tea, eating chia seeds, or being super focused on #hydration. You won’t necessarily experience negative consequences without it, but you might gain unexpected benefits if you incorporate it as a regular aspect of your lifestyle.

What do you think? Would you ever try it, or, if you have, did you experience any benefits?

-AK

Health, Veganism

Comforting Carrot Coconut Curry

Take any recipe post from me with a grain of salt (actually, this recipe doesn’t really require added salt, but, ya know)… My whole family has always regarded me as the person who would need a personal chef, due to my lack of cooking skills and my lack of desire to learn.

However, now that I’ve been cooking for myself full-time the past several months, I’m actually growing to really enjoy it. Perhaps it’s in my blood… Both of my parents have spent much of their adult lives working with food. I find cooking to be a calming, meditative activity, but one that also makes me feel productive.

This week, for dinner, I made something in between a curry and a soup with carrots fresh from the farmers market (thanks to my thoughtful boyfriend). It is as good today as it was when I made it on Sunday. Plus, there’s nothing better than soup, particularly if it is a little spicy, to help kick out the in-between-season cold with which I had begun to cross paths… ¬†So I thought I’d share!

This recipe was made in the slow cooker, but I’m sure it could be adapted to cook on the stove top as well.

Ingredients:
-2 teaspoons curry powder
-2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
-1 red onion
-2 lbs carrots (baby carrots work, or chopped large carrots)
-1 large sweet potato
-4 cups vegetable stock (no added sodium if you’re not a salty person)
-14 oz (about 1 can) light coconut milk

-salt if you are a salty person

Instructions:

1. Chop onions, sweet potatoes, and carrots (if using regular sized carrots) into approximately bite-size pieces
2. Place onions, carrots, sweet potato, fresh ginger, and curry powder in slow cooker. Then add vegetable stock.
3. Cook on high for around 8 hours, or until vegetables are soft
4. Add salt or additional spices of desired.
5. Stir in coconut milk while still hot

It’s so easy! I’ve tried adding nutritional yeast to this (for more of a creamy/ chowdery flavor) and that worked well, IMO. This would also be good with some type of coconut garnish on top. You could also add chick peas or quinoa for additional protein. I recommend eating it with rice or some sort of bread.

Enjoy!

-AK

Lifestyle, Work

The More I Learn, the Less I Know

(And I’m okay with that!)

I want to share my personal experience with the progression of my political outlook. Not because I think the views that I have or have held are particularly interesting or unique, but because of what it illustrates about growth and understanding and the importance of the willingness to adapt, at least for me individually.

I grew up in Lancaster County, PA. While not as conservative as a small town in Texas, it is a relatively conservative area. My first memories of being politically aware involve the 2004 election. Almost all of my classmates claimed to support George Bush (which is laughable, as we were like, 9 years old, and I have no idea how this conversation began). From what I knew of politics (AKA most likely my family’s spirited discussions at get-togethers) I simply knew that I was not “supposed” to like George Bush (see: political socialization). As a result of the clash between my beliefs and the apparent beliefs of those by whom I was surrounded, the strength of my own beliefs increased, as I felt isolated, alienated, and misunderstood. As a child!

I think that if I had grown up in an environment where there was more diversity of thought, politically, my passion for politics would never have developed as it did, because it would not have been as prominent an aspect of my life as it was when I spent every day thinking “how can I hold such different beliefs from those around me? And how can all these people think the things that they do?” My consequent interest in politics prompted me to make my one friend who called herself a Democrat a John Kerry necklace out of paper. It also inspired this lovely piece of artwork, courtesy of 4th grade me.

It’s not that my entire family is “liberal,” it’s just that the outspoken side was. I happen to have a father who loves hunting and fishing, has no interest in politics whatsoever [especially if it involves interrupting his regularly scheduled enjoyment of football], and¬†sees “staying out of his life” as the only role that government should play. I don’t explain my family’s perspectives to denounce or pass judgment on either side, because I hear them both.

The ability to understand both sides of an issue is a skill that I intentionally started fostering a few years ago. First, I was somewhat forced to take a free market economics class as an aspect of a summer internship program. This class called into question some of my assumptions and beliefs about the world, but I tried my best to be open minded and I can honestly say that it was one of the most educational experiences during my college career. I still do not agree with every single argument advanced within the course, but I can much more fully appreciate them. Additionally, in college I participated in Maryland Student Legislature (MSL), which is an awesome organization that models the Maryland state legislature, encouraging students to write and debate their own legislation. My participation in this club led to friendships and conversations with people of all political affiliations and beliefs.

Both of these experiences were fundamental to my development as a person. They didn’t necessarily shape my¬†views¬†in any concrete way, but they certainly shaped the way that I think. I have learned to constantly be open to assessing and challenging my beliefs, and to apply this in every facet of my life. I am no longer afraid of “being wrong.” I think the fear of being wrong stems from a¬†deeper¬†fear that if one is¬†wrong, then a belief that is important to them, or even their entire belief structure, is called into question. When you mentally detach yourself from your beliefs, treating them not as truth but¬†as incidental consequences of your¬†current¬†understanding of what is logically true, then you can constantly refine your belief structure so that it does reflect truth¬†rather than what you wish to be¬†true.

When I realized how crazy it is to keep arguing against somebody who has a really good point, but one that seems to contradict your own core beliefs, I had to reevaluate the way I approached conflicts with my own perspective. If somebody advances an argument that you really cannot contradict, then it is time to reassess your own beliefs. The only thing stopping you is your own pride.

I am not here to say that I have disavowed all of my prior political beliefs. No, there is still a 4th grader Alex within me, who is inspired by a passion for what is fair and just, and who thinks this should be a political priority above all else, and I do believe that this causes me to align more naturally with one party than the other. However, there have recently been many situations where, the more I learn about a political issue, the less I feel I actually know.

The more I realize how complex government and policymaking are, the less I’m willing to accept as “correct” policy solutions that oversimplify issues and fail to account for many real life consequences. The more I learn about how little the voting public actually knows about politics, the less inspired I feel by the idea of democracy (but hey, it’s the best we’ve got). The more I learn about how injustice has systemic, sociological, and individual choice causes and consequences, the less at ease I feel with certain political remedies, and the less faith I have in their effective execution. The more I learn about polarization these days (example 1, example 2, example 3) , the less I’m sure that a two-party system can effectively satisfy their political wishes. The more I learn about the tendency for people to reject information that is factually accurate but that¬†that does not accommodate their belief structure, while accepting misinformation and bad arguments as evidence for their own beliefs, the more I wonder why everybody can’t just be more open minded so that these tendencies don’t exist.

Why everybody can’t just accept how little they actually know? We should all be wary of the tendency within ourselves and within others to claim omniscience on any topic. Particularly those with a vested interest in convincing others that their knowledge is superior.

Would we be so polarized if we separated our self from our beliefs? Would we then take it as a personal attack if others did not agree with us?

Personally, I think that detaching myself from my beliefs– i.e., no longer embracing them as an identifying characteristic– has been the best thing I could have done. In fact, it actually changed the direction of my life path. When I was certain about the problems I could identify in the world, and certain that I could be a part of the solution and that I had the “right” idea about what that solution was, I believed I was destined to be an active participant in law and politics. Then came the period in which my mentality transformed. When I finally decided that my curiosity about the truths of the world actually outweighed my need to feel like an active player in the political world, I decided that a Ph.D. was a more appropriate path.¬†As of right now, I could not be happier with that decision.

However, regardless of whether it impacts one’s life path in any concrete way, I still believe that it is essential to reevaluate the way that we approach information that conflicts with our beliefs.

Opening your mind leads to opportunities for self-development and improvement. Keeping your mind closed leads to stagnancy, intellectual plateau, and prohibits self-growth.

Health

A Guide to Healthier Choices at Starbucks This Fall

Fall is upon us! If you’ve been on Twitter today, you’ll know that the Pumpkin Spice Latte is back at Starbucks! However– not to burst your bubble– if you look at the nutrition facts of the PSL, you might realize it isn’t the healthiest choice. This is the case for many drinks at Starbucks that contain unnecessary fat and sugars, without much in terms of nutrients (i.e., empty calories).

Nothing wrong with treating yourself now and then, but if you’re looking for a way to make your favorite Starbucks drink a little healthier, here are some tips! ¬†I have been a barista in several coffee shops, so I will do my best to tell you the easiest ways to order your drinks, without holding up the line and causing your barista to think you are /extra/.

Basic Substitutions–

Milk subs: any drink that is made with milk by default ([iced] latte, cappuccino, frappuccino, smoothie, iced coffee with milk), can also be made with soy milk, coconut milk, or almond milk.* Coconut milk contains more fat than the other two, soy milk contains the most protein, and almond milk is the lowest calorie option.

Syrup subs: most drinks that are flavored would contain a syrup, including, but not limited to, mocha, cinnamon dolce, caramel, vanilla, hazelnut, toffee nut, raspberry, white mocha, and pumpkin spice. Good news: some sugar free syrups are offered. Most, though not all, Starbucks stores will have a sugar-free mocha, vanilla, and cinnamon dolce on hand. I personally opt for sugar-free when possible, but not everybody likes sugar-free syrups and some are skeptical of artificial sweeteners. For you, I would say ask for less syrup! I would order a tall with one pump, a grande with 2 pumps, and a venti with 3 pumps of syrup in this case (and this can also be applied to the flavors that do not come in sugar free).

Remove whipped cream from any hot/cold drink: by default, it comes on most seasonal hot drinks, iced or hot mochas and white mochas, and frappuccinos**

Lowest calorie drinks on the menu: your best bets for enjoying a low-calorie drink without needing to worry about modifications:
-black coffee, iced (0c) or hot (<10c)
-cold brew (5c)
-Starbucks refreshers (not the kind in cans, 40-80c)
-espresso (10c)
-Americano, hot or iced (10c)
-hot teas (0c)
-iced teas/ tea infusions (0c IF you ask for no syrup)

A few fun fall drinks you can order ūüôā

To mimic a pumpkin spice, without the dairy/ sugars: order a soy flat white with nutmeg steamed in (if they can’t steam it in for you, add it at the bar, where I would also use 1-2 of the green Whole Earth sweeteners) (calories- T: 140, G: 190, V: 240 compared with the PSL’s default of T:300, G: 380, V: 470) ***

Order a caffe misto with soy, 1 p. sugar free cinn. dolce, and 1 p. sugar free vanilla, and cinn. topping (T: 80, G: 100, V: 130)

Caramel apple spice: a highly underrated drink made with steamed apple juice! Ask for no whip or caramel drizzle, and sugar free Cinnamon Dolce to reduce the calories on this one!

Salted caramel mocha with soy, half the toffee nut, sugar free mocha, no toppings

Black coffee, stevia sweetener or splenda and cinnamon

If you order any frappuccino, you can sub the milk and ask for light base and no whip

I hope you enjoy these tips!¬†Remember, it’s really all about the coffee, everything else is just an enhancement. I highly recommend just trying out different flavors of brewed black coffee, and finding out what you like. A doppio espresso with light cold soy is my go-to when I need to feel like I have superpowers for a brief 30 minutes while starting a new project. Don’t forget, as we enter a new academic year, that you can add extra espresso to any coffee drink! On second thought, maybe don’t become a caffeine addict like me…

-AK

 

Notes:

*If you are looking to make your drink healthier, I will not be recommending nonfat milk. In my opinion, if you choose to consume dairy, you may as well stick with 2% or whole milk– here’s why: consumption of higher-fat dairy products is linked to lower obesity rates, possibly due to the satiety of higher-fat products (you’ll be less likely to be hungry afterwards), or possibly due to some complex interaction between these products and our metabolism. Either way, it’s also true that nonfat milk contains higher sugars (including sugars added to improve its flavor), despite its lower fat content. The main reason that people avoid nonfat milk is to avoid cholesterol, which can also be achieved by selecting a plant-based option!

**Bonus tip:¬†If you really want to make your barista’s day, simply don’t order a frappuccino. ūüėČ

***This tip came from my brother who participated in the regional Starbucks barista competition, so you know it’s good!

I used starbucks.com nutrition facts to estimate #calories.

Lifestyle

Simple Joys

Greetings!

Today is the first day of Math Camp for my grad program (basically a review of quantitative skills that are basic to some, but complex to others *raises hand*). It’s also the beginning of orientation, which is the beginning of my first year of a PhD program, which is the beginning of a potentially very long 5-7 years I have ahead of me. Needless to say, one must find opportunities to seek enjoyment in the small things in life when the majority of his/her time is taken up by pursuits that are, albeit important, probably sometimes boring, difficult, confusing, and overwhelming.

I had this realization yesterday, when I decided to make the best of a “meh” situation. I was having a productive day, and decided to visit the gym at my apartment complex. However, this gym lacks AC and consists of machines that are mostly broken and probably older than me (no shade, just speaking the truth).¬†So, despite the 80+ degree heat and the temptation to just forget working out for the day, I decided to go for a run outside. This was a wonderful idea, and I ended up being so glad! I ignored my phone and ventured in a direction I hadn’t yet explored, and I truly felt so at peace with where I was in that moment.

I had forgotten how great it can feel to just get out and see the world around you, without distractions. Right now, it sounds like I’m just advocating for running outside. Innovative, right? But actually, I just wanted this post to be a reminder of how beneficial it is to take some time just for yourself, even better if it is a meditative activity that allows you to both explore your surroundings and your inner thoughts ūüôā Sometimes in all of the business of daily life, we forget how simple things really are. We forget to connect with ourselves and the world around us. We get caught up in Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and emails and work and social obligations and we often forget to just take a breather. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself, no matter what your outlet is.

Here are some pictures from my little journey.

On a darker note, however, I have to re-learn logarithms, derivatives, functions, INVERSE functions… I chose this program in part for the quantitative background that I thought it would provide, but that reality is now setting in, and I think I need to re-supply my desk with index cards now.

Will update on chances of survival by end of week, with any luck.

-AK

Veganism

Don’t think eating meat is wrong? 3 reasons why you should still cut back.

Many vegans adopt a cruelty-free lifestyle for ethical reasons. While I fall into this category, I recognize that it is impossible to force others to share your moral viewpoints. Also, framing the issue as a moral decision actually does a disservice to the cause of veganism. If the idea that “eating meat/ dairy is wrong” does not resonate with somebody’s own ethical code, then framing the issue this way closes people’s minds to the other ways in which their actions are significant. While I personally could talk for hours about the philosophical question of whether it is “wrong” to¬†unnecessarily harm sentient beings, there are factors that hinder this approach from being wholly effective. People’s core beliefs are influenced by things like their family and personal background, their culture, religion, their environment, and more.¬†Unfortunately, those who are passionate about this issue cannot control all of the aforementioned factors. However, what we can do is provide the facts, particularly since ethics are only one of many reasons why somebody should/could/would go vegan.

Although ethics are debatable, these facts are generally not. I hope the following information inspires you to reduce your consumption of animal products, even if you are not ready to commit to eliminating them entirely!

  1. Environmental impact:
    In case it isn’t obvious, it takes far more resources to feed and sustain livestock, which will then be used as food, than it would to feed people the plant products directly. Yet, over 2/3 of all agricultural land is devoted to feeding livestock, while only 8% is used to grow food for direct human consumption.Studies have shown that animal agriculture contributes significantly to water use, pollution, and land use, as well as harming our oceans.

    Here is a quote from The Guardian, citing research led by¬†Professor Gidon Eshel, at Bard College in New York state:”

    meatfacts

    Additionally, Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment cites that livestock production comprises 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Since greenhouse gas emissions and climate change go hand-in-hand, this link is not good news. And, we in America are the biggest contributor; the article states that if everybody on Earth were to consume as much meat as we do, the amount of land required for agricultural production would increase by two thirds.

    Oh, and if you think eating more “humane” meat (i.e. “free range,” “grass-fed” etc.) is a better idea? Think again; it comes with an even higher environmental cost. Did you know that if we were to raise all cows on grass, cattle would use about half of the country’s land– plus they emit more methane than grain fed cows? That “pastured organic chickens” have a 20% larger impact on global warming? That nutrients from the interruption of the life cycle of animals land in our water systems, a major contributor to pollution? Unfortunately, there’s no way around the environmental degradation that accompanies animal agriculture, besides reducing the need for it.
    .

  2. Health benefits of a vegetarian diet: 
    In general, studies have shown that becoming a vegetarian reduces one’s risk for heart disease, cancer (processed meat is a Group 1 carcinogen, according to the World Health Organization- the same as cigarettes!), type 2 diabetes, and obesity.Here is some information from Harvard Health Publications:

    meatfacts2

    And did you know that cholesterol is only found in animal products? So, vegetarians tend to have healthier cholesterol levels than meat eaters, and vegans have some of the healthiest cholesterol levels, according to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Their bodies produce the amount that they need and they do not consume any more through their diet. Yes, cholesterol is only one facet of health, but high cholesterol leads to health risks such as heart attacks, clogged arteries, gallstones and digestive pain, and more.
    .

  3. Save money! Don’t let the overprocessed, ¬†overpriced, specialty vegan foods fool you; a vegan diet is cheaper than the standard omnivore’s diet, not more expensive, if properly planned. (Don’t get me wrong, I do love Gardein ‚̧ but products like these are not necessary for a healthy vegetarian diet.) I often hear the argument that “being a vegetarian/vegan is a luxury that only the privileged can afford.” This is simply untrue. And don’t just take it from me: you can find more information and anecdotes from a variety of perspectives¬†here, here, here, here, here, and here. Do a quick Google search, and you’ll find a bunch more. Or go to the grocery store and shop in just the produce section, instead of whatever your usual list includes; you might be pleasantly surprised. ūüėČ

It’s pretty easy to maintain a “SAD” (Standard American Diet) lifestyle when it feels like a personal choice, based entirely on preference and what tastes good. But when presented with information about how it impacts the environment, your health, and your wallet, is it still all about preferences? The choices that you make impact the people and world around you more than you might have realized, and it is your purchasing power that determines the success of the industry.

Hopefully this information provides you with the motivation to do some research of your own and make choices that are aligned with the contribution you desire to make on this planet. If there are reasons that you don’t feel inclined to change your habits and begin to consume fewer animal products, I would love for you to comment below and start a discussion!

-AK