Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The healthy workplace

I got one of those random solicitations from someone who wanted me to write about how I keep my workplace healthy and to link to their website. Usually I ignore these offers, but this one sounded interesting.  It turns out they wanted me to conceal the fact that they'd contacted me directly.  They said only a "select group" of bloggers had been asked and they didn't want anyone to feel left out.

 I don't like to be deceptive, so I'm not going to link to their website.  However, I think that creating a healthy workplace is an interesting topic.  In my current office environment there are four challenges to being healthy: lack of natural light, being sedentary, stress, and nutrition.

Sad cube is sad

I'm convinced that spending all day under artificial light is unhealthy.  Our building is tightly wedged between two other buildings, so the only windows are those that face the street and the light doesn't penetrate as far as my cube near the back of the building.  I've had mild psoriasis for years, but after a working for a year in my current building, it became much worse.  At first, it didn't occur to me that my workplace might be to blame, but after a year, I started to get suspicious, blaming work stress and the allergens I'm inhaling in our dank, moldy building. I didn't realize at the time that psoriasis is linked to vitamin D deficiency, which can be caused by lack of exposure to sunlight.  I started taking vitamin D supplements and within a few days, the rash was less itchy.  Last summer, I continued to take vitamin D and on the weekends, spent half an hour a day in the sun, and the rash improved a lot. Unfortunately, I became less diligent about taking my vitamin D, and with the coming of winter, it got worse again--but not as bad as it was the year before.  I'm hopeful that getting back on track with the vitamin D will help.

I've heard that being sedentary is as unhealthy as smoking, which is pretty alarming.  Even more scary, exercising doesn't cancel out the bad health effects of sitting at a desk all day.  I walk to and from work every day--four miles round trip, or twenty miles a week.  I'm also at the gym five days a week, so it's a bit discouraging that all this is useless in the face of my desk job.  I tried an improvised standing desk, but my mouse/wrist angle was so uncomfortable, I wanted to simultaneously burst into tears and punch someone in the face.  I took it all down and bought a fitness disk, which is supposed to help engage your core while you are sitting on it.  It's a bit uncomfortable, so I can't sit on it for more than twenty minutes at a time, but I've learned I can use it for mini resistance workouts at my desk. I'm also trying to remember to take standing breaks on the even hours throughout the day. On days when I have a lot of meetings scheduled, I have the opportunity to walk quite a bit during the day.  Other days, my butt barely leaves my chair.  In nice weather, I'll sometimes take a quick walk around the block.  More than once, if I haven't been able to get something to work, the solution has come to me after I got away from my desk and walked a bit.

Stress is my toughest challenge.  Work stress gives me chest pain, disturbs my sleep, and inhibits my ability to enjoy other activities.  I think it's partially responsible for my psoriasis.  Whenever things are particularly stressful, the urge to scratch is overwhelming.  Scratching the psoriasis rash seems to relieve an itch in my brain. Walking to work helps the stress, somewhat, but the walk home is a major stressor itself because of the cars.  Drivers are more sedate and considerate in the morning.  On Mondays, I take a 6:15 cycling class at my gym and then go straight to work.  It isn't easy to pack a towel and toiletries and lug all my work clothes to the gym at 06:15, but when the workout is done, I have the satisfaction of knowing I've just completed the most difficult thing I'll have to do all week, which is a nice psychological boost. Otherwise, Monday is a "treat day" meaning I don't cook dinner unless I feel like it,  and allow myself to climb into bed straight after work.  What with the gym and the "treat day" concept, I don't mind Mondays.  Tuesday is the day that sucks.

Nutrition is relatively easy.  I pack all my meals and rarely go out, not even for coffee. I leave my wallet at home, so I won't be tempted by the nearby coffee houses and restaurants.  My cube food favorites are carrot sticks, clementines, hard boiled eggs, sardines, and smoothies.  I have tried and failed to come up with a green smoothie that doesn't taste horrible.  A major disadvantage of green smoothies in the workplace is that you risk getting bits of green in your teeth. Beets are a better choice, and they pair really well with strawberries. Before work, I'll blend  unsweetened almond milk, half of a raw grated beet, frozen strawberries, and half a scoop of vega one protein powder and carry it to work in a mason jar.  I've started drinking kombucha at work, for its supposed health benefits. I've learned to like the taste and it has only thirty calories per serving.

What about you?  What do you do to make your workplace more healthy?  If you're a blogger, do you get sketchy offers?

Friday, March 27, 2015

In which I am defeated by War and Peace

Will you think less of me because I struggled with War and Peace?  I started reading it well before Christmas and I'm still not quite finished with this 1200+ page novel.  (Fewer than ninety pages to go!)

I read somewhere that War and Peace is considered the best novel of all time.  (The same list put Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain as the second best.)  It's a book one must read, and I added it to my list for the fifty classics project.  (I read The Magic Mountain too, a long time ago and I can't really say that I enjoyed it all that much, although I did learn an awful lot about early treatments for tuberculosis.)

Anyway, what can I say about War and Peace that won't sound completely idiotic and ignorant?  I thought it was going to be a little like Jane Austen, only with fur hats.  Not that I'm disappointed!  It's just that it's a very complex novel.  As the title implies, the action shifts between the battlefield and the drawing room.  I'm an absolute blockhead where military tactics are concerned and I struggled whenever the focus was on the war.  Aside from the war, the novel centers on three families: the Rostovs, the Bolkonskys, and the illegitimate count, Pierre Bezukhov and their stories are absorbing, particularly that of the love between Natasha Rostov and Prince Andrei Bolkonsky.

Vladimir Nabokov said, "Curiously, one cannot read a book, one can only reread it. "  This is especially true of War and Peace.  For a novel as complex as this one, an initial reading is necessary so that when you read it again, you are better able to understand and appreciate it.

Have you read it?  Thoughts?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sewing in Miniature

I was the type of girl who was obsessed with dolls--their clothes especially.  I started sewing when I was six because I wanted to make doll clothes.  My grandmother was a kindred spirit and she used to make the most wonderful doll clothes for me and my sister and our cousins, including fantastically styled, retro Barbie doll outfits.  (I inherited her 1960's magazine of Barbie patterns and it is awesome.)

As an adult, I didn't lose my interest in sewing for dolls, so Grace and Brigid had pretty nice doll wardrobes, and I dabbled in doll making as well.  I had a standard rag doll pattern and I used to sell or donate them or give them as gifts.

My "standard" rag doll--not sure where the forehead stain came from.  
Anyway, this is all a long preamble to say that I haven't had any time to make dolls in years, but recently, I was going through my box of patterns and found an unfinished doll, not one of my standard rag dolls, but a doll from a kit designed by Gail Wilson for her Early American Doll series.

I had two kits, actually.  The kit for the doll itself and another for a Shaker outfit.  The doll was faceless and with no arms or legs.  So I finished the doll and made the Shaker outfit.  It was a fun project and not particularly difficult, although sewing in miniature can be fiddly and the straw bonnet was a bitch--partly because the glue that came with the kit was dried out and I substituted Martha Steward glitter paste, which is too stiff.  (The glue itself isn't glittery, it's intended to affix glitter to things.)

I had difficulty with the facial antiquing.
The paints and varnish had dried out and reconstituting them with water wasn't entirely successful.
Painted on shoes.  The feet are filled with sand to give them heft.
Shaker dress and apron

Shaker bertha

Straw bonnet

The bonnet barely fits over the hair, so I hung it from her neck by the strings and it looks like she's hauling a covered wagon on her back.  I wouldn't have chosen all that brown myself, but it's what came in the kit.

Now that the doll is finished, I have no idea what to do with it.  For now, she's sitting on top of the pantry shelves, guarding our staples.

Pantry Goddess