Monthly Archives: August 2012

War Wounds: Veterans and Mental Health

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/12/opinion/sunday/war-wounds.html?_r=4&emc=tnt&tntemail1=y

With America’s wars winding down, the United States is now losing more soldiers to suicide than to the enemy. Include veterans, and the tragedy is even more sweeping. For every soldier killed in war this year, about 25 veterans now take their own lives.

 

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Filed under mental health, science

Happiness is good health …

Happiness is good health and a bad memory.

— Ingrid Bergman

With what’s going on in my life, this made me chuckle 🙂

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August 25, 2012 · 5:05 pm

Why children lose their creativity

“Instead of growing into our creativity, we grow out of it,” he said. 

Fear is the main culprit, he says. We are conditioned through years of schooling to strive for the “right” answer. We are punished for making mistakes. We are rewarded for following rules.

There was much hand-wringing over the research out of the College of William & Mary in 2010 that showed that children’s scores on tests of divergent thinking, an aspect of creativity, had declined over two decades.

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August 20, 2012 · 1:36 pm

Good Mood Foods: Some Flavors in Some Foods Resemble a Prescription Mood Stabilizer

If chocolate can be my mood stabilizer, I’m falling in love with the world even more.

 

 

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August 20, 2012 · 1:18 pm

Our capacity to draw happiness from aesthetic objects or material
goods in fact seems critically dependent on our first satisfying a
more important range of emotional or psychological needs, among them
the need for understanding, for love, expression and respect.

— Alain De Botton

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Filed under Quotes

Creating Corn Chowder

http://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2012/08/13/kobe-bryant-kevin-systrom-and-the-science-of-creativity/

love this one quote:

You can’t train to be creative. You can’t be coached. You must allow—allow your brain to make new connections by getting out of the office, attending conferences, traveling to new places, having lunch at a different restaurant, or taking a class in a topic unrelated to your job. By doing so your passions will be stirred, your brain’s neurons will fire, and your creativity will soar.

Chinese Youth Service Leadership Conference…

Yesterday Kara had me speak at her conference involving 20 high school students from GuangZhou, China who were interested in service and entrepreneurship.

My portion? I spoke to them (in butchered Chinese – alas, not speaking for a year!) about implicit perceptions of creativity in the East and West, based off of my research paper I did for my creativity class last semester on implicit views of creativity in the East and their connections to Confucian ideals. To introduce them to the major concepts (Westerners find that the creative process involves intrinsic motivation, love for aesthetic, and willingness to break the rules), I began with my own story – how I did something I really didn’t have a passion for all through primary until college, and how that reflected in my progress in swimming. The bigger thing I emphasized was that because I was unhappy, I wasn’t willing to look around at my environment and listen to other people’s stories and make their lives better. I remember chatting with my Dad once who told me: You have to help yourself first before you can help other people. Very true.

You can check out my powerpoint here… (potential recording of me later). Unfortunately, it’s not entirely clear what I’m trying to get at through some of the slides (I’m a very picture heavy, minimal word type of presenter), so hopefully you can figure out what’s going on.

nihao

I felt really fortunate that Kara gave me the opportunity to talk to these kids about my past and these ideas because I feel that these are some of the biggest issues within the East Asian education system – the lack of encouragement to fail and make mistakes, the lack of “play time” and experimentation, the authoritative teacher-student relationship, lack of emphasis on learning to take in one’s surroundings and forming connections/metaphors, etc.

And for me, it’s pretty personal. I grew up with their mentality – the “fear of disappointing” and the fear of self-expression. I really wanted to let them know that they’re okay whatever they do and that they should be enjoying their experience in the world this very moment.

I’m hoping they liked my craziness? Kara said they were more engaged than ever. I was running around the room, speaking in Chinglish, making terrible jokes, and just generally hyper about what I was talking about. I wish I could’ve spoken for longer and gone through more exercises with them (like asking what sort of music chocolate tastes like, or what colors you would use to describe your meal, etc.) but I only had 30 minutes.

Daily Nutritional Facts

Had Basil Lemonade at Clover the other day. Oh-my-goodness I think it’s the best kind of lemonade out there. Better than rose, better than lavender, and…dare I say it? Better than my one and only ginger?

I love basil. It’s such a round herb that has a hint of spice and such complexity when fresh. It’s definitely one of the herbs you don’t really ever want dried.

On that note, got my beautiful share of basil from my friend’s farm share (as I’m covering for her over the next couple of weeks) and also got my hands on way. too. much. corn. 10 pieces to be exact! Solution?

CORN CHOWDER

I loved how it came out – light enough with thyme dancing away in the background, but the potatoes added a key element of thickness to the soup. Perfect for the summer. And great cold too!

Also – my first soup ever.

I never took the time to really appreciate how soup is made. I now realize it’s a pretty solid way to create delicious food. (I can hear people rolling their eyes)

The recipe itself was taken from “The Conscious Cook”, a vegan cookbook I hold dear to my heart as it was the first cookbook I was introduced to while I did my little stint at Sandrine’s. Granted, I didn’t have the cutlery to make my setup as beautiful as his, but it still tasted pretty damn good.

Ingredients: 

Sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
a cup of diced onion
a few cloves of garlic minced
one large carrot diced into 1/4 inch cubes (I LOVE DICING)
half a celery stalk 1/4 inch dice, half of a red bell pepper (I’d now go for more) in a 1/4 inch dice
2.5 cups veggie stalk
cayenne pepper (the recipe called for 1 dried chipotle pepper)
2 small-medium size potatoes peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice, thyme (I didn’t have fresh sprigs on me, even with my undercover deals with the Harvard Community garden)
3 ears of corn
3/4 cup cashew cream (1. soak cashews over night with a bit of salt and water fully covering 2. drain and rinse 3. place in a blender and pour an inch of water 4. food process away m’dear!)
freshly ground black pepper
minced chives
1/4 cup diced tomato

1. Place a large pot over medium heat. Sprinkle the bottom with salt and heat for a minute (creates a non-stick effect! Who knew?) Add oil and heat up for another 30 seconds – make sure it doesn’t smoke. Throw in the garlic for literally 10 seconds and give it a quick stir. 

2. Then quickly add the onions, carrots, celery, and pepper. Saute for 10 minutes, stirring a lot.

3. Then add the stock, potatoes, chile, and thyme. Bring pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender (15-20 min).

4. Use the back of a spoon or a fork to mash up the potatoes. Add the raw corn (which should be stripped form the cob) and cashew cream, season with salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for 15 minutes.

5. Garnish with chives and tomato! Done!

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Filed under Clover, creativity, creativity research, food, ingredients, recipes

When we are mindful of every nuance of our natural world, we finally
get the picture: that we are only given one dazzling moment of life
here on Earth, and we must stand before that reality both humbled and
elevated, subject to every law of our universe and grateful for our
brief but intrinsic participation with it. (From her biography of
naturalist Eustace Conway.)

— Elizabeth Gilbert

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Finish Lines, Flying Sheep, Frantic Knives

There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down,
the other is pulling up.
— Booker T. Washington

The Finishing Line of Summer Research

This past week was my last of research and finally got to play with the brain-analysis program. Dream come true? What was very cool was that even though I had the smallest sample size ever ( N = 9), the figural creativity scores correlated with increased thickness in the brain regions that I wanted, particularly the TPJ! The TPJ is known as the temporal parietal junction, and that’s where the temporal and parietal lobes intersect. This area is a hotbed for connection, and is also implicated in Theory of Mind (understanding the concept of a mind, that other people have minds – people with autism have deficits).

The brain doesn’t quite look like a brain in the initial analysis because it’s inflated so you can see between the gyri. But down below is what the brain actually looks like (See how hard it is to figure it out):

Final memorable moments:

1) Hilarious phone calls to Dr. Lazar – someone apparently called and said they had a spontaneous awakening and wanted their brain scanned. They also claimed to be an advanced meditator because their “nose itched”. My nose itches right now too, does that mean I’m enlightened?

2) The Biggest Loser – STRESS EDITION – Dr. Britta Holzel, Sara’s fellow researcher who ahs also worked on many papers with her, was asked by a German production company from her native homeland to star in The Biggest Loser. The twist is that rather than losing weight, it’s the contestant who loses the most stress. So Britta’s role is to be the “meditator guru”, while other people will go through things like exercise, martial arts, counting sheep… to be honest I really have no idea where this idea is going. Again, evidence we’re a little too hyped up about “wellness” sometimes. I guess it’s better than more trashy episodes of the Kardashians (no hating) and shows an interest by the “public” in mental health.

Scents and Scentsability

So, hi, guess what? I’ve decided I want to do a [mini] documentary on the sense of smell and human conscience. How did my fascination begin?

Yoga-y: I’ve been told I have root chakra issues and root chakra (muladhara) is related to smell. Something about the psychology of groundedness and being in your body is related to this underappreciated sense.

Neurosciencey: Well, our other senses (and by that I mean the common five, not the extra ones) go through our sensory neurons, to the thalamus, then to its respective part in the cortex. BUT the olfactory system, considered to be part of our more primitive brain, engages in its own direct route. The neurons go straight to the olfactory bulb, which is seated next to the more primitive, emotional centers of our brain too, thus the deep connections of memory and emotions.

Food: Well it’s no secret I love food. But you seriously can’t taste without smell. I’ve started to do this new thing which all my friends make fun of me for – take a deep breath with your mouth, plug up your nose, and then eat something. The only things you can bring your attention to is the sensations created on your tongue and mouth…that’s real taste! It’s texture and sensations! You relearn what salty, umami, bitter, sweet, and sour really mean. You relearn how your mouth feels after certain food.

And then…keep playing and unplug your nose halfway through. WOOM you get a huge attack of flavor, and you can usually identify what you’re actually eating! Most fun with spices 🙂 Try cinnamon on your friends.

Currently reading “Season to Taste” by Molly Birnbaum, an incredible book with delightful descriptions of taste and smell, as well as a juicy handful of scientific knowledge (making the science nerd in me very, very happy). The book recounts her experiences as a chef who loses her sense of smell (anosmia) after getting in a car accident and damaging her brain. While deferring her space at a culinary institute, she falls into the world of journalism and slowly relearns to smell (first thing she detects is rosemary! Then chocolate woo). Can’t wait to meet and discuss with her next week at her book reading – going to ask her for tips on documentaries and also her thoughts on smell.

So basically –  philosophers loved to rave about vision, especially because it distinguishes humans, but why not study the sense that connects us more deeply to other more ancient creatures? I’m starting to read articles which I will update here, but to begin my exploration I watched a BBC documentary – things I learned:

  • many animals are super picky like the koala that will only eat 30 types of eucalyptus, sharks only eat fish (they tried giving them steak, chicken, lamb and swam off), carnivores on land hate sweet things, hummingbirds eat the equivalent of a human eating 1000 chocolate bars a day
  • humans, on the other hand, first like sweet and salty, then learn to develop a palate – “aquiring a taste” is so unique to humans, and may have been one of our many evolutionary advantages
  • I mean, take the crazy example of feeding stilton blue cheese (molded, fermented milk) to Asians, and feeding 100 year old eggs to Westerners. Each group finds it disgusting to eat the others’ delicacy
  • As humans, we’re much more sensitive to bad smells than good…rotting meat for example – sulphurs, small, fast moving molecules
  • Buteric Acid is the culprit for making cheese and vomit taste similar!
  • A lot of smells we’re averse to (excrements) are learned as we become older – initially as babies we don’t think they’re bad at all! (refer again to parmesan cheese and vomit similarities above)

CLOVER UPDATES

I got to attend knife skills 101 with Chef Rolando!! I’ll update under cooking some of the knife skills I learned (by creating my own videos). Unfortunately, I didn’t pass my first time (a minute too slow), but hopefully with some practice I’ll get better.

Ayr had me go on a run around to Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Starbucks, and Crema Cafe (a local Cambridge coffee shop) to check out their basic black coffees. Conversations that I will always remember forever and ever and ever (thanks Ayr!). No, not really.

DD:

Me: “Where is this coffee from?” Her: “I have noooooooo idea. Look online.”

McD: 

Me: “Where is this coffee from?” NiceIrishLad: “I have noooooooo idea. Oh wait. It says by Newman. Ummm Bolivia?”

Starbucks:

Me: “Where is this coffee from?” 2 people: “Uhhhhhhh NO idea.” 1 awesome person: “It’s from somewhere in South America. Specifically, I don’t know. But I do know it’s a combination of farmers we rotate through to manage a flavor profile. And I swear it’s according to a bunch of sustainable codes, you can check online.”

Crema:

Me: “Where is your coffee from?” Her: “Uhhhhhh you can ask George Howell, he makes our coffee. So go online.”

Conclusion after tasting? Somehow, Starbucks tastes way worse than McDonalds or Dunkin. Disturbing.

Also, I am so jealous of these kids who get fields trip to Clover!! I want one!

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Filed under adventures, Clover, creativity, food, meditation, science, smell

The Power of Negative Thinking

Even goal setting, the ubiquitous motivational technique of managers everywhere, isn’t an undisputed boon. Fixating too vigorously on goals can distort an organization’s overall mission in a desperate effort to meet some overly narrow target, and research by several business-school professors suggests that employees consumed with goals are likelier to cut ethical corners.

 

Though much of this research is new, the essential insight isn’t. Ancient philosophers and spiritual teachers understood the need to balance the positive with the negative, optimism with pessimism, a striving for success and security with an openness to failure and uncertainty. The Stoics recommended “the premeditation of evils,” or deliberately visualizing the worst-case scenario. This tends to reduce anxiety about the future: when you soberly picture how badly things could go in reality, you usually conclude that you could cope. Besides, they noted, imagining that you might lose the relationships and possessions you currently enjoy increases your gratitude for having them now. Positive thinking, by contrast, always leans into the future, ignoring present pleasures.

 

Buddhist meditation, too, is arguably all about learning to resist the urge to think positively — to let emotions and sensations arise and pass, regardless of their content. It might even have helped those agonized firewalkers. Very brief training in meditation, according to a 2009 article in The Journal of Pain, brought significant reductions in pain — not by ignoring unpleasant sensations, or refusing to feel them, but by turning nonjudgmentally toward them.

From this perspective, the relentless cheer of positive thinking begins to seem less like an expression of joy and more like a stressful effort to stamp out any trace of negativity. Mr. Robbins’s trademark smile starts to resemble a rictus. A positive thinker can never relax, lest an awareness of sadness or failure creep in.

 

And telling yourself that everything must work out is poor preparation for those times when they don’t. You can try, if you insist, to follow the famous self-help advice to eliminate the word “failure” from your vocabulary — but then you’ll just have an inadequate vocabulary when failure strikes.

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August 10, 2012 · 2:32 pm

Urban Agriculture: Overcoming the Legacy of a City’s Past

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August 9, 2012 · 2:47 pm