TED Talk Friday: Why we laugh

I’ve been going through a rough couple of weeks as I adjust to a new job, reach the one year anniversary of a difficult loss, and see a close friend move away. All of these things have left me in a funk and I have not been laughing as much as I usually do. It already takes a lot to get me to the deep, guttural laugh point–and it often kicks in randomly! One of my favorite childhood memories was laughing hysterically with one of my best friends–I was afraid I would hyperventilate! We were simply so deeply joyous and amused by ourselves. In an attempt to make myself laugh a bit more, I watched this video and it definitely lifted my spirits. Laughter is socially contagious at its core–whether it’s in person or in a video.

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Did you laugh while watching this video? What makes you laugh out loud?

Making Chocolate in Peru: From Bean to Bar

I went to Peru on an amazing trip a few weeks ago–endless mountains, beautiful views, hiking, and freshly made chocolate. Chocolate was considered a “food of the gods” across much of Central and South America–and we still love it today!

My dad is a hardcore chocolate lover so we scheduled a special class at a Chocolate Museum located in Cusco. Cocoa beans are harvested from a variety of locations; and Peru (and the Amazon) is home to a number of plantations. Not all chocolate is the same–the flavor of cocoa beans changes based on what the plants are growing near. Some chocolate has subtle hints of bitter coffee, whereas other have a more fruity undertone. It’s not always easy to tell, but comparing the two flavor profiles makes it very clear.

After the cocoa beans are harvested, they are fermented and then dried in the sun. This process can take anywhere between one to two weeks depending on how dry the environment is. After the beans are dried, they are roasted. We actually got to roast the beans ourselves during our class. The beans need high heat and slow stirring and you can hear a popping similar to popcorn popping as they get closer to being ready. Our teacher/guide got really into it and asked me to sing to the cocoa beans–to show my love for them. If you know me, you know I always refuse to sing in public. It is simply a no-go for me so I politely declined and felt like a complete spoilsport!

Fortunately, cocoa beans are not dependent on singing and were roasted all the same without the affection of my *lovely* voice.

(*= heavy sarcasm)

Here are the freshly roasted beans with cracked skins prepared for winnowing, which is the process of removing the fibrous husk from the cocoa bean.

After winnowing, you’re left with cocoa beans that look like this:

When you break these up, you are left with cocoa nibs! If you like extra dark chocolate (like me), you would love the tiny pieces that come when you break apart the beans.

The next step is more intensive–grinding the cocoa beans by hand with mortar and pestle to create a smooth, creamy mixture without large chunks. This is when you can start to see how cocoa butter and cocoa powder can both come out of the same beans.

This is most of the way through the cocoa bean grinding process; you can see a smooth mixture start to form and it tastes incredibly rich (and bitter).

After grinding up our cocoa beans, we collectively made xocoatl, which translates as “bitter water.” We made ours with hot water, ground cocoa beans, honey, and a dash of cayenne pepper.

The mix was absolutely delicious and rich, but without the milky richness we often think of when we drink hot cocoa. The idea of mixing in milk with chocolate only came along in the 1700s in Europe.

We learned a lot during the class, but there was not much discussion around the importance of buying fair-trade, eco-friendly chocolate. Cocoa production often leads to deforestation as people chop down trees to make room for lucrative cocoa plantations.

“…a 7-ounce bar of milk chocolate produced from a cleared rainforest has the same carbon dioxide emissions as driving 3.2 miles in a car. Furthermore, a dark chocolate bar of the same size has the same emissions as driving 4.9 miles.” –Hello Giggles

While large companies like Hershey’s and Mars are seeing the perks of doing social good they have made numerous commitments to the environment and use of child laborers. Unfortunately a lot of this is just talk and no action.  With the price decline of cocoa during 2016-2017, a lot of efforts towards fair production took a hit. Farmers bear the brunt of the price dip and can easily end up operating at a loss. There are approximately 2.1 million child laborers working on cocoa plantations in West Africa–and this is after companies have committed to making changes.

One way to make sure you are choosing ethical options include looking for fair-trade labels as well as brands that are “bean to bar,” which means the brand or company is fully involved from the growing of the beans through to the final stages of manufacturing.

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Do you prefer dark or milk chocolate? Did you know how your chocolate was made before reading this?

TED Talk Friday: The Unstoppable Power of Letting Go

This is a great talk told in an incredibly personable, relatable way. Her message around the danger of “not yet” is something that rings true for me across numerous areas of my life, but I’ve been working very hard over the past year to lose that outlook. Saying “not yet” helps us cling to certain things, or stay a step away from things, and those choices often come from fear. I hope you enjoy this wonderful talk.

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What do you need to let go of? Which rule is your favorite?

Ted Talk Friday: What to do when your worldview falls apart

The opening of this talk deeply resonated with me; I remember the moment I started questioning, then completely doubting God. Up until that point, I don’t think I questioned the existence of God–I was raised Catholic, going to Sunday school and church every week. Questioning our world view is terrifying, but it is crucial to building our own identity and learning to think critically.

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Do you question your beliefs? Does questioning them scare you?

Movie Review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I don’t think I’ve ever done a movie review on the blog, but I feel the need to share and reflect on this wonderful documentary.

I have vague memories watching Mr. Rogers growing up; his kind face, his sweaters, his assuring voice. I didn’t know what to expect of the movie, but I was quickly lost in the fascinating world of Mr. Rogers.

His character on TV was not just a persona, it was exactly who he was. I was surprised to learn that he was a minister (and republican!), but none of those details mattered–the only thing he preached of was love. He embodied Carl Rogers’ concept of “unconditional positive regard,” which is the idea that an individual is loved and lovable no matter what they say or do.

To Mr. Rogers, every child has a right to unconditional positive regard. What a powerful, simple concept.

He discussed emotionally painful situations like divorce, assassination, and 9/11 with kids. Often people feel the need to shelter kids from these events, but children sense when something is wrong–and they deserve to know. Mr. Rogers knew that and knew exactly how to tell them.

I was young when 9/11 happened and asked my mom, “There were not any people on the plane, right?” I don’t know how she answered, but I know it was a good answer. My parents mirrored Mr. Rogers approach–they always told us the truth in a way we could understand, no matter how painful.

The movie explores Mr. Rogers deeply as a person; he had so much grit, passion, and kindness in his heart. He seemed to never waver, but partway through the movie we learn that was not the case. Even he was not perfect. He has self-doubt and questions, but he always chose to persevere because he knew children needed help.

He have a commencement speech, and part of it was included in the movie. One line: “Take a full minute and think about someone who has loved you into being. The timer starts now.”

I thought about this phrase and tears slowly started coming. I thought of my high school boyfriend, someone who has come up frequently in the blog over the past year. He died from an overdose about a year ago; it rocked me to my core and continues to rock me. He loved be into being. He loved me into knowing I was enough, lovable, special.

“Thank you, Max, for loving me into being” I thought. It wasn’t sadness about his death that was bringing me tears, but instead tears of gratitude that I experienced that kind of unconditional love and acceptance so young. My parents always gave me that love, but it’s the first time I felt it in someone who was not in my family–and that gives a different feeling.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a must-see; it adds so much depth to the staple childhood show. Mr. Rogers was not simply the character, he was that person. He was kind, loving, and generous–those kinds of people can exist and can make amazing change in the world. The movie also prompts self-reflection that went far beyond what I expected (I know I didn’t expect to cry!).

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Have you watched Mr. Rogers? Did you see the movie?

We Finally Know What About Meditation?

Meditation comes up in the news all the time as the newest “hot thing” to do for your heath. It has tons of research support for improving mental and physical health, but I was shocked to learn that its benefits for stress were only confirmed in the past few days.

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We know meditation can help quiet the mind, but this new study showed the meditation also helps calm the heart. When we are stressed, our heart physically beats differently and researchers have now found how to observe the combined changes of meditation, heart beat, and stress. Yoga meditation was found to have the strongest effect and the positive effects aren’t limited to only the period of time spent meditating. The physiological benefits, such as a calmer heart rate, persist even after the meditation session has ended. Some of those positive effects include mental ability for goal-oriented thinking, which requires strong executive control.

Again, we often underestimate the interconnectedness of mind and body.

I personally do not meditate as much as I would like–meaning I don’t make it a priority in my life. I’ve downloaded Headspace and really need the catalyst to commit and turn it into a daily practice.

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I pride myself on learning about health, integrating healthy habits into my life, and setting a positive example, although this is one are I just can’t seem to budge.

Everyone struggles with certain things like this. For example, I work at a company focused entirely on wellbeing. We preach mindful eating and taking short breaks at work, yet everyone eats at their desk while working…what’s up with that? It’s HARD to make the right healthy choices. We have to prioritize them. My coworkers would have to think “well, this email can wait until I’ve enjoyed my salad and caught up with a friend”, and I would have to say-, “pause your anxious mind for these five minutes and simply be.”

When it comes down to it, we all have to pick our battles and choose the ways we want to honor our wellbeing.

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What are healthy habits you are striving toward? What’s stopping you?

 

Ted Talk Friday: Best-Self Activation

What a wonderful talk; this came out only a few days ago and it might be one the best talks I’ve seen in a while. Dan Cable, a new name to me, wove together a beautiful, complex, and persuasive story of what it means to “activate our best selves” and how we can do it more often.

I’ve completed the peer surveys for friends in the past and see it as such a valuable tool. Cable also mentioned a test to determine your values and positive character strengths–I highly recommend taking it. The survey is called the VIA and can be found here.

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When do you feel like your best self is activated?

Ted Talk Friday: My story is painted on my body

I picked this talk randomly while looking for a shorter talk. At first I was not enjoying this, but it quickly took a turn halfway through. I was so intrigued how a young girl who was bullied then became a bully herself. I am sometimes naive to think that empathy is inherent and that we always learn by experience. Hearing this young woman reflect on her experiences really made me pause and think.

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Are you surprised she was a bully after being bullied?

News alert: IIFYM, Sugar, & Sweeteners

I have always been fascinated by the strange world of nutrition science (or lack thereof); every day there is a new diet in the news or a new supplement with promises for weight loss or muscle gain. It’s exhausting to follow all of the new trends, but one trend that has caught on across social media is called IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). This diet, or lifestyle, is about breaking down your diet by nutrient: carb, fat, & protein. It’s not about what you’re eating, but instead about the nutritional breakdown. For example, x amount of cotton candy is 50 carbs, but so is a huge bowl of fruit–and thus, those two food choices are counted equally.

A lot of individuals say this makes them feel free to eat “unhealthy” foods without guilt; if that is what it takes for you to have a balanced diet, then more power to you. I personally think food should never come with guilt–whether you’re choosing to eat that cotton candy or the fruit. Instead, see how you feel. I know I would savor and enjoy the fruit, while the cotton candy would leave me on a sugar high & crash. Sure, enjoying cotton candy at the county fair once a year is fun, but it’s not what I would consider a balanced diet.

Despite this IIFYM obsession, I read a recent article that concludes that sugar sweetened beverages, when compared to starchy carb equivalents, have a more harmful effect & increase cardiometabolic risk factors.

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These same researchers also concluded that there is no strong evidence supporting the idea that noncaloric sweeteners (like Splenda, aspartame, etc.) contribute to weight gain. A quick google search shows that popular media has run wild with the idea that fake sugars will only increase weight, but there is little support for this theory. Takeaway: If you’re going to drink Coke or Diet Coke no matter what, drink the Diet Coke.

Nutrition is about balance and for a lot of people, simple harm reduction. One fewer sugar-sweetened soda. One extra serving of veggies. All of these small daily choices add up over a lifetime. Use your common sense, and don’t believe everything you read.

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How do you make your nutritional choices? Do you drink regular or diet soda?

Ted Talk Friday: How to live passionately–no matter your age

I love Isabel Allende; she has lived through such tragedies and has come out with such an inspiring, hopeful attitude about the world we live in. As I see people I love age, I think about what aging means today. We perceive those who are aging as weak and tired, but that is simply not the case. We need to tell ourselves the story that vibrance, passion, and excitement do not dissipate as we age, instead we can learn how to make those qualities grow even more.

 

 

 

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Do you agree on Allende’s principals of living passionately? Do you live your life how she does?