Sunday, January 26

The Adam Quest

Author Tim Stafford brings readers the stories of eleven scientists who have faced fierce battles reconciling their faith with their careers. Battling both fellow believers and their professional peers, these individuals present strong evidence that it is possible both to fully embrace science and one’s faith even, and perhaps especially, on subjects that have long been considered breaking points between the two. 
I deeply appreciated the author’s heart in searching out and telling these stories, and I applaud the scientists interviewed for their honesty, persistence, and fortitude in pursuing the truth and unity despite seemingly endless battles and sacrifice, both personally and professionally. 

Some excellent (if slightly appalling) information was tucked throughout this book, but I did not enjoy it at all. It was a slow and often depressing slog; the writing felt flat and it was difficult to engage with the stories. Leaders of the faith choosing to spread misinformation and believers alienating and persecuting Christian scientists over their efforts to pursue Truth through the lens of science was frustrating and irritating. While the author’s intent was clearly to call the Church to better awareness and action, Christians often came off as petty and narrow minded (legitimately, given the scientists’ experiences, but still depressing). Finally, although the point was clearly to pave a smoother path for the next generation of Christian scientists, I couldn’t help but feel it might do exactly the opposite. Given the extensive battles and sacrifice these individuals have made for no reward and little progress, young readers may well be discouraged from throwing their own hats into the ring, rather than inspired to take up the cause.

Friday, January 24

Best Products: Stain Remover

Kristen over at We Are That Family hosts a blog carnival every week called Works for Me Wednesday. In her words:

WFMW is a “blog carnival”. Basically, the idea is that on Wednesday you post a little tip  you’ve learned on any (G-rated) topic–anything that has “worked for you” in making your life easier.

I'm not a consistent enough blogger to stick to posting such things routinely on Wednesdays, but I do really like her idea. So today I'm adding a new "Best Products"category to my blogging. My goal is not to advertise for anyone (none of these posts will be sponsored), but just to share what I've found out the hard way through research and experience to hopefully save other people looking for similar items time and effort.

I'm going to start off with something unglamorous but deeply practical: stain remover. Having spent years living in apartments (which inexplicably insist on having light colored carpets that show everything) with a puppy/dog, I have tried just about every all natural and commercial-but-less-than-insanely-toxic cleaning solution there is. While I'm a big fan of baking soda scrubs and castile soap, when they aren't cutting it or you have to deal with the remains of a pet being sick, the best ever stain remover is LA's Totally Awesome Pre-Wash Stain Remover. (Yes, that is actually the product's name.)

Another friend of mine (with cats instead of dogs) has testified to having the same consistently impressive results I've had. This product never fails, never stains or damages the clothing, carpet, or furniture you're using it on, has no noxious smells, and - best of all- doesn't cost an arm and a leg! (The only place I've ever found to buy it is at the Dollar Store.)

This product has definitely been a life-saver for me and, as it has recently helped save two of my favorite shirts from stubborn, problematic stains, I am happy to make it the first Best Product I'm sharing!

Thursday, January 23

Small Steps: Essential Oil Burners

Although I haven't written any Small Steps posts in forever, the philosophy of focusing on little things with the potential to make a big difference in how I feel and how my life/home functions worked exceptionally well for me in 2013, and I'm happily carrying it into how I approach life in 2014.

I've neglected to share a bunch of small steps I've taken lately, and wanted to share in case they inspire anyone else with a new way to improve your own life.

Today's small step: Oil Warmers

I'm blessed to have my own office at work, with my own heater (yay!). Unfortunately, the construction of the building and the heating system can lead to the circulation of a musty smell. That can be both distracting and discouraging, especially when you're already trying to contain the chaos of a deadline week and not snap at clients (who, once again, have answered an email without actually answering the critical question contained therein....).

Scented candles are great, but can quickly become an expensive habit - especially if you try to buy good ones and avoid the scary additives released by burning many of the cheaper ones.

So after much thought and some research, I opted for a porcelain oil warmer. (I bought a set of three so if I break one I've got a ready backup.) Research indicated that porcelain performs dramatically better than any of the other materials such warmers are often made of, and my own limited experience so far backs that up. A few drops of essential oil (pure, clean, healthy, and inexpensively purchased through suppliers like Vitacost) and a little bit of water and I can banish the mustiness from fill my office with a positive, soothing scent from a safe source.

That's it - simple and easy, but a huge improvement for my mental health on a daily basis!

Notes: Depending on the quality of yard sales/dollar stores/discount stores near you, warmers like these should be available for next to nothing in a variety of styles. If you're not allowed to have tea candles at work, you can also find electric versions of these.

A word of advice, however - stick to water and essential oils. While scented wax beads/bricks are perennially popular, they are much messier if spilled and much harder to clean!

Thursday, January 16

Eye of Round: Cooking A Rare (But Delectable) Cut of Meat

In a rare alignment of the stars, my Prince was home this year during hunting season and able to get us a deer! As we butchered it and wrapped up the yummy-ness to stash in the freezer, I realized that I had never cooked an Eye of Round and had no idea how to do so.

Undaunted, I did a little research and stumbled across this post. When a recipe has over 500 comments raving about how well it turned out, you know you've found a keeper!

Sadly, I have no pictures for you, as it was positively divine and we had devoured it in its entirety before we knew it. (Which is probably just as well, considering my poor photography skills.)

If you can get your hands on an Eye of Round, do yourself a favor and make this!

Tuesday, January 14

Why the Idea that Women Should Hold 50% of Leadership Positions Is Demographically Unrealistic

Warning: This is a long post, and I apologize in advance. 

I am not normally one to to do gratuitous math. (I regularly joke that I married a Math major so I shouldn't have to do math.) But throughout 2013 I watched both online and in the projects I did at work as people of all stripes fussed and debated in circles about the apparent lack of women in leadership roles and what can or should be done about it. 

This was disturbing and frustrating to me, though it took me a very long time to determine and articulate why that was the case beyond my personal experiences which consistently demonstrate that women often suffer in leadership roles, regardless of how much they wanted to hold them or the amount of support being offered by others. What follows is the result of me finally figuring out why the whole discussion felt so wrong.

The Math Behind Women in Leadership or Why the Idea that Women Should Hold 50% of Leadership Positions Is Demographically Unrealistic

There is an ongoing debate in many circles about why there appears to be a lack of women in leadership roles and what can or should be done about it. Ideas range from pessimistic views about glass ceilings and negative social perceptions of powerful or authoritative women to optimistic arguments that it reflects women’s increasing empowerment to intentionally opt out of workforce in favor of staying home with their families. 

The statistics primarily bandied about revolve around the number of CEOs, guest speakers, and other model leaders in any given setting and how few of them are/were women. Conversations and comment sections often rapidly devolve into circular or divisive debates, and men (other than being considered, by default, part of the problem) are usually left out of the issue almost entirely.

The more I have read and thought on the subject, however, the more the concept bothered me. It
started with the awareness that (in my experience) many women, no matter how smart or capable, simply don’t have the personality or desire to be good leaders. As a result, they either intentionally opt out of seeking leadership positions, or end up taking on a position in which the costs far outweigh the benefits. Moreover, like so many well-intentioned goals, it seemed that perhaps this debate was being warped and framed by measurements that didn't actually correspond to core intentions.

The key that brought everything together for me was remembering a fascinating fact I’d read a while back: women account for a shockingly low percentage of INTJ’s (the Mastermind Myers-Briggs personality), and that female ISTJ’s (another personality type common among successful leaders) are also fairly rare.

Enter the gratuitous math: when I popped open a new excel spreadsheet and started running the numbers, what I found reinforced my belief that the popular opinion that women should account for 50% of individuals in leadership roles is completely off base. Socio-political opinions aside, it’s simply demographically unrealistic.
Here's why:
As of the 2010 Census, there were just over 3 million people in the United States. Of these, just over 1.9 million were between the ages of 18 and 65, giving us roughly the number of people eligible to comprise the nation’s workforce.  Broken out by gender, there are slightly more women (97,822,857) than men (96,473,230). At face value this seems to support the idea that, opportunities being equal, we might reasonably expect that at least 50% of leaders would be women. 

However, neither the skill/personality nor the desire to successfully fill a leadership role is uniformly distributed throughout the population. Both historically and in modern studies,  four Myers-Briggs personality types account for 57.8% of leaders*. When we take this information into consideration, the picture changes dramatically.

As the chart below shows, only slightly more than a quarter (26.1%) of adults fall into one of the four primary leadership personalities. Moreover, even using the highest published estimates, only a quarter (25.1%) of those adults are women – which means that only 6.55% of women identify with one of the four personality types that typically characterize almost 60% of leaders.

Personality Type
% of Leaders
Percentage of the Pop.
Women as a % of Type**

In real life, of course, a plethora of contributing factors influence whether an individual will pursue (or remain in) a leadership role. Many of the 6.55% of women whose personalities predispose them to being strong leaders will choose other careers to which they are also well suited and some will not participate in the formal workforce at all, resulting in an even lower percentage of women holding socially significant or highly visible leadership roles.   

Obviously, women’s under-representation among the four personality types above will cause them to be more heavily represented among other Myers-Briggs types. We might assume for the sake of argument, then, that even accounting for those who are not participating in the workforce, women may be more evenly represented among the remaining 42.2% of leaders. 

Even if women comprised a full 50% of that 42.2%, they would still only account for 21.1% of total leaders. And, even if all 6.55% of women with the top four leadership personalities were in the workforce and employed in leadership positions, women would still only account for 27.65% of individuals in traditional, recognized leadership roles!

What does this mean for the ongoing debate about women in leadership?

First, I believe it would behoove us as a nation to reassess how we identify, train up, and support leaders of both genders. Leadership is a gift, and one that is desperately needed in many sectors. Many talented and capable individuals turn down or step down from leadership roles every year because the conditions of the position require too much sacrifice of other legitimate components of a balanced, fulfilling life such as family and health.

Second, we would benefit from being more concise and specific about what we are truly looking for when we claim to want more women leaders, and why. Is it a perceived lack of respect for behind-the-throne and feet-on-the-ground influencers and game changers? Is it a lack of access to role models, potential mentors, or others doing what we hope to accomplish and need guidance in? Is it a feeling that modern leadership leans to far into a certain paradigm of thinking or acting that we hope to balance out? Whatever the core of our need is, it may be entirely possible to meet it through ends and means eminently more practical, feasible, and effective than simply objectively boosting the number of women in traditional leadership roles.

Finally, I believe that we need to make a shift in the types of statistics we use to define and discuss our challenges. Single, large-scale statistics (such as the total percentage of females in traditional leadership positions) are hard to properly understand and apply out of context and are prone to accidentally warping the types of solutions and assessments proposed to address an issue (as so recently demonstrated by the calorie reduction campaign). Using smaller, more specific measurements (such as the percentage of women in the church who feel that a lack of female presence/perspective in the sermons is a problem or the number of women in a specific career field who desire but are struggling with/unable to find a female qualified mentor) will prove vastly more effective in accurately shaping discussions and initiatives related to the issue and empower people to make good, informed choices.

Thank you for wading through this very long, but very heartfelt post!

*Please note that this data reflects traditional leadership roles and does not account for “power behind the throne” positions, informal leaders in a workplace/organization, or leadership roles not traditionally recognized/accounted for (think Pastors’ wives, club officers, school board members, etc.)
** A few of these numbers are much higher than other estimates; for example, women are reported elsewhere to account for only 0.3% of INTJ’s. For the sake of this debate and consistency in comparisons, however, I have used the higher numbers. In places where a range is given, I have used the highest number in calculating totals, presenting a best-case scenario.

Sunday, January 12

The Calorie Conundrum

ABC News trumpeted the "good news" this week that "2010 Pledge by Food Companies Results in Reduced Portion Sizes, 6.4 Trillion Fewer Calories - Already 4 Times the Pledged Reduction!"

Apparently, 16 major food companies took a pledge in 2010 to cut 1 trillion calories out of their products by 2012 and 1.5 trillion calories by 2015. The well-known, philanthropic Robert Wood Johnson Foundation agreed to hold the companies accountable, and paid for researchers to keep track of their efforts. It's representatives joined ABC in celebrating the coalition's recently announced accomplishments.

As someone who is passionate about food, has worked in the food industry, and was taught critical thinking skills (thank you Mom & Dad!), I have not yet been able to decide if this news makes me want to laugh, roll my eyes, or bang my head against a wall. I'm thinking of sticking with the very healthy response standard to my ISTJ personality type which, as Mark Gungar so eloquently puts it, is to "decide they're wrong and get on with my life."

Before I do, though, I would just like to explain (for the benefit of anyone less inculcated with how the food world works, as the RWJ Foundation apparently is) why this "good news" is anything but. 

When I was a young, naive new manager fresh out of college, a chef I once worked with (who was completely talented and amazing) explained to me that there are two things every food service organization loves to add to food: air and water. Why? Because they're free. Prime examples are things like whipped cream cheese, whipped yogurt, smoothies, or mousse-based desserts, or puff pastries. By whipping or blending in air and water (often in the form of ice), you create a product that looks larger than it is and sell people less actual product for the same amount of money (or more, if you have good marketers!), thus raising your profit margins.

(Incidentally, as products like soy and corn have been steeply subsidized by government funds to the point that they cost almost nothing, new products like soy protein isolates, corn syrup, and "vegetable" oil have been added to this list, which is why they now show up in almost everything.)

Food companies certainly weren't about to substitute higher calorie ingredients with healthier, lower-calorie, more expensive options when they could just whip or puff in a little extra air and water and still hit the standards set for them. By challenging food companies to reduce the calories in their foods, the RWJ Foundation and its collaborators essentially handed them carte blanche to raise their profit margins and give consumers less value for their dollar! Of course they've met their goals ahead of schedule - who wouldn't want to capture the new profits as quickly as possible?

As for the portion sizes, any one who's ever read the side of a food package can tell you that these numbers are entirely made up and unrelated to real life. When is the last time you opened a box and carefully counted out the four or five crackers typically considered a standard serving size according to the packaging? If you're like the majority of the population, probably never. Unless food has been packed in single-portion servings, the amount the an individual will actually eat has not changed at all - only the numbers printed on the side of the box.

Ultimately, though surely well intentioned, the challenge to food companies to cut calories was deeply misguided. All calories are not created equal; simply cutting calories does not inherently make one healthier. While it can be helpful to monitor one's calorie intake to maintain a balance between what we take in and what we burn off, it is the quality of those calories that determines whether or not a person is going to be healthy and have a body equipped to fight off disease, heal itself when injured, and maintain the brain functions necessary to learn, focus and make good decisions.

It is regrettable that foundations seeking to improve health, particularly for the undeserved and at-risk populations in our nation, are spending their time and money working with Big Food to slightly manipulate processed food rather than investing in initiatives focused on nutrient-dense real food such as fresh farm produce and locally raised meat which support local economies and are significantly less prone to cheap manipulation. 

What is perhaps even more tragic, however, is that so few people have the critical thinking skills or knowledge base about America's food supply that news like this can be touted as wonderful and not be publicly called out by the organizations (governmental, non-profit and otherwise) who purport to be protecting our food supply.

This picture compliments of Futurama's Saturday Morning Fun Pit.

Friday, January 3

The Best Books of 2013

Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy had the brilliant idea to host a link-up about the best books people read in 2013 - if you're looking to start stacking up your reading list for 2014, go check it out! (Note: these are the best books read in 2013, not published.)

Thanks to my amazing Kindle and free books from Amazon, coupled with listening to audiobooks on our commute, I actually got a fair number of books read in 2013. Picking only a handful is a challenge, so I've decided to give you the top 5 that immediately spring to mind. (As a bonus, I've also tacked on the top three "practical skills books" that I found last year at the bottom.)

 1. The Halo Series Yes, I know it's cheating to use a series, but we listened to every audiobook in this series that we could and I can't possibly pick a favorite! Whether you're familiar with the game or not, these were incredibly well written and deeply engaging. I recommend starting with one by Karen Travis. (Nearly all of these are available on audible, and you can get the Kindle versions for $2.99.)

2. Shadow of Night
I was anxiously awaiting getting my hands on SoN (the sequel to Discovery of Witches) and am now twitchingly awaiting the trilogy's final book. A unique twist on witches and vampires, it twists and turns through unexpected developments at every step and was a challenge to put down!

3. Anatomy of Violence
Completely different than anything else I've read recently, this book was phenomenal. It is not a light or easy read - it will definitely make your brain work - but the author demonstrates a singular ability to take dense, complex science and deliver it in an accessible, embraceable way that keeps you hooked, blows away preconceptions, and stays with you long after you've finished reading. It seriously challenged some of my beliefs about why people do the things they do and what our response as individuals and a society should be. Whether you agree with his suggestions near the end of not (I mostly don't), this will make you think.

4. The Five Money Personalities
I didn't expect to be impressed by this, but I now consider it in my top five books every married couple should read (right alongside The Five Love Languages). It's a quick and easy read (and you can take the personality test free online whether you buy the book or not - yay!), but it gives you something a lot of people don't have  - a clear framework and concise language with which to discuss your fears and priorities about money. It can provide powerful new insight into why some things in your financial life are working and others are a struggle, and what to do about it.

5. Is Marriage for White People
This is one of those books that begs to be read out in public somewhere, just to watch people's eyebrows shoot through their scalps. That aside, it is also a well-written exploration into topics that tend to be badly handled by the media (and society in general). The conclusions were surprising but overwhelmingly positive, and the personal stories deftly handled.

Bonus Round: Practical Skills Books I Found & Loved

Wild Edibles: A Practical Guide to Foraging, with Easy Identification of 60 Edible Plants and 67 Recipes

Quite possibly the best of this kind of book that I've found, WE changed how I look at my yard. An easy size to carry around while walking through your yard or local park, the book has excellent pictures, concise descriptions (with all the information you actually need), and helpful use suggestions and recipes for all the new plants you discover.

Yoga for Runners is exactly what I have been looking for. As a new runner (who generally sucks at the stretching/warmup/cool down aspect), I am loving the practical information and easy-to-use format of this book. Without making you feel like an idiot, it shows you where you're at risk for injury, which stretches to use to prevent those injuries, and how to handle specific personal challenges (bad knees, sore back, etc.). It also includes how-to break downs of individual poses, full yoga sequences, and quick reference charts so you can find what you want in a hurry. 

 Reflexology is on my list of things to master in 2014. It's quick, free, and healthy, and can reduce one's dependence on or inclination to less constructive alternatives like dosing up on pain relievers or drinking. After trying a bunch of different books, I've found this one to be the best for beginners. Everything you need to know to get started in an easy-reference format that is well written and doesn't treat you like an idiot or try to shape your opinion of broader alternative health policy. Yay!

That's my list for 2013 - don't forget to hop over to Modern Mrs. Darcy's link up to see what everyone else has been reading!

Thursday, January 2

Starting New Habits? Remember These Two Tips!

Happy 2014!

In support of everyone who might be trying to start positive new habits this month, I wanted to share the two best (scientifically proven) tips for success I ran across in 2013:

1. Seconds matter.
Studies consistently prove that very small amounts of time can make a huge difference in our behaviors. You can dramatically cut down the number of pieces of candy you snack on at work simply by moving the dish from somewhere within easy reach to somewhere that requires you to stand up and take a few steps to reach it. Similarly, if there's something you want to do more of - practice an instrument, work on a stitching/crochet project - you can significantly improve the frequency with which you pick it up simply by moving it into plain sight (by the couch or your favorite chair, perhaps). Trying to eat better? Consider coughing up the extra couple bucks or extra half hour every week to stock your fridge with pre-prepped snacks. Even the few extra minutes it takes to slice an apple is enough to kick your brain into grabbing something instant - and usually less healthy. 

2. Link your habits.
Connecting a new habit to an existing habit is one of the fastest and surest ways to make it second nature and ensure you don't forget. So decide that after you brush your teeth you'll lay out your outfit for the next day, or after you sit down at your work computer to get started in the morning you'll send someone a quick text or email to let them know you're thinking of them. No matter what the habit is, linking it to a tiny part of your existing life/routine will make a big difference!

Note: I will add the sources/references for these as soon as I can dig up the titles in case you want to read more about setting yourself up for success in the new year.  :)