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Ingrid: When Sugar and Creativity Collide

Editor’s note: Ingrid Kirkegaard is a writer and independent consultant specializing in education. The mother of two, she lives in North London and blogs at Dutch Courage. Try not to be intimidated by the fact that Ingrid studied French and Dutch literature at Cambridge University, graduating with a First, and then wrote her doctorate at Oxford University, among other academic accomplishments. Some weeks ago, Ingrid shared a few interesting tidbits on a Monday Post, and I asked her to expand on her ideas. Don’t miss the free template of Ingrid’s log that you can download and adapt to your own needs at the end of this post!


Ingrid Kirkegaard“I will get up at 6:00 am and do one task towards my book.” This sounds like detention, but in fact it’s setting an intention.

I am a writer. Here’s the record. There’s stuff I published as an academic. Then there’s an abandoned academic book; an abandoned novel; and now the attempt to finish another nonfiction book. I have been working on it for four and a half years.

I can give all the usual reasons for my failure to complete — mortgage, children, day job(s), international relocation. They’re pretty big, and there’s no question they soak up my time — but they are not the real reasons I have struggled for so long with writing.

Unfortunately for me, I am a perfectionist and a procrastinator. There is little to be proud of in these qualities. The public manifestation of them is that, unless there is a deadline, I cannot produce. The private hell is that I believe that what I produce is worthless.

It’s like standing up in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, confessing that out loud. So I might as well go the whole hog.

For me, there is a third dimension. The amount of sugar I consume is a direct index of my perfectionism and procrastination. I eat sugar, even though I know it’s bad for me, because I know it’s bad for me, when I do not know what to do next. Giving up sugar would mean… having to be honest with myself, facing the pain, and doing something about it.

Work space

Work area #1: My desk belonged to my mother and father, and was one of the first items they bought when they got together in Holland in the 1960s. It doesn’t fit into our small house, but I cannot bear to part with it!

But this feels impossible, so I have found another, kinder, way. Enter — The Sugar Log.

When I went on holiday this summer, I decided to aim for three things: to go cold turkey on sugar for that week; to write for an hour early every morning; and to maintain a log.

To my absolute amazement, I managed to do the writing and stay off the sugar — even though the family wafted ice cream and biscuits under my nose. Keeping that log really helped me. It had several columns: I set out a writing task; the date; what went well/what didn’t and why; next steps; writing notes; and a sugar confessional. When I’d finished writing for the day, I set the task for the next day.

The idea of keeping a reflections log wasn’t new to me, but what made me try it for myself was seeing someone elses. It was the amazing intimacy of reading another person’s very rough thoughts about her own work, all neatly compartmentalized in spreadsheet columns, that I found inspiring. I could see at a glance the way her thinking had progressed over time; it really helped me to see that she kept her daily goals very small; and it really, really helped me to see that her doubts and confusions were the same as mine — but contained.

Since coming back from holiday, I’ve kept the log and the cold turkey going. I can see now that it’s possible to stay (mainly) off the sweet stuff, and not to panic, even if I can’t work for that crucial hour first thing. If I fall off the wagon and munch on chocolate, it is also not the end of the world. Because I can still set my intention and try again.

Work space

Work space #2: Our lovely dining table, with its very sensible oilcloth covering. I love that tablecloth!

The log is different from my to do list and my online calendar, which sustain the grind of domestic life. The log is about my working process, and holding myself to account.

And even taking a little pleasure in the process.

I’ve noticed I am calmer, even though I’m hugely busy at the moment. Spelling out what’s going on defuses all the pressure. Keeping it to myself means I deal with that pressure without leaning on others. The log is like a daily postcard to myself — not too detailed, but a little bit of kindly attention being paid to my mental processes.

This is a little turning point on the long road I’ve been on since becoming a mother and stopping being a professional academic. It is a road that has involved working to excess, falling into depression, learning how to dance, falling in love with yoga, and gradually, gradually understanding Marcel Proust’s crucial insight, that we are embodied creatures caught in time. What we get done is what we get done in time. Perfection has nothing to do with it.

A screen shot of Ingrid’s Work Log appears below (click on the image for a more readable view). For a free Excel template of her log that you can adapt to your own preferences download this file: The Sugar Log. Many thanks, Ingrid!

How about you? Do you find a connection between your consumption of sugar and your creative output? Share with us in the comments!

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Miranda: Healthy Spring

It’s nearly 50 degrees outside right now, but it’s sunny and a few of my windows are open. This weekend is going to bring beautiful weather, and with it, our first real sigh of spring in New England. Our gift for putting up with a seemingly endless winter is the euphoric arrival of fair weather and the dream-like return of flora and fauna.

I believe that many of us who celebrate Easter without the religious emphasis see the holiday as a celebration of the new season. This year, I’m ahead of the game in Easter preparations — but things will be a little different this time around. In recent months I’ve gone hard-core in getting rid of the sugar and cheap carbs in my pantry and refrigerator. Yes, I *thought* my diet was healthy — vegetarian, largely organic, trying to reduce our dependence on anything that comes out of a box — but then I read Connie Bennett‘s Sugar Shock and Nancy Desjardin‘s The Sugar Free Lifestyle. I had read other books on sugar and its insidious, addictive properties before (and how many things we don’t think of as sugar act in a similar way) but this time I actually got it.

Fat is far less of a concern (especially for vegetarians) than sugar is. When shopping for organic yogurt for the kids, I now pick the brand with the fewest grams of sugar. I’m working toward getting them onto plain yogurt. I now make sure that the organic peanut butter I buy doesn’t have added sweetener. I will no longer buy potato chips, because they’re too much of a rush on the glycemic index without any protein or fiber to slow things down. I won’t even buy Annie’s organic products anymore if they aren’t whole-grain. That means whole-wheat mac & cheese and whole-wheat bunny crackers, which were an easy switch on my little guys. Now, when my kids eat fruit or whole-grain crackers, I make sure they have some nuts or something else with protein in it to reduce to effects of sugar on their tiny little systems. I don’t even prepare regular pasta for dinner anymore — it has to be whole grain. (Schar makes tasty whole-grain pasta that is also gluten-free — nice for me, as I don’t eat wheat at all. Not because I have celiac, but because I find that eating wheat products — even whole-grain wheat — induces strong food cravings that drive me crazy and destroy my mood. Other carbs that aren’t whole grain — like rice cakes made from white rice instead of brown, or potato puffs, pirate booty, etc. — also entice me to pig out and then crash.)

I’m not even buying or making cookies anymore. Do I sound like a mean mom? The only reason I’m getting away with this is that my oldest son is away at college (but trying to improve his diet anyway); the next oldest son, a junior in high school, doesn’t have a sweet tooth at all; my daughter, who is 15, has been right on board with me in improving our snacking habits; the little guys are happy with the occasional all-natural popsicle. OH, and I even stopped buying juice. Can you believe it? The little boys get organic juice boxes in their lunches, but other than that, it’s water (which we all love anyway) or soy milk (I’ll save my rant about soy for another time). I won’t even buy my kids gum since I learned from my friend Jane that even “natural” gum contains plastics — and regular gum contains truly awful chemicals that you don’t want your child putting in his or her mouth.

While I’m on the health rant here, I’ll note that I’ve also just given up caffeine. Now, if you know me, you know that I was an extremely devoted coffee fan. I have a Keurig one-cup brewer (which, OK, I absolutely adore except for the fact that the K-cups are not yet recyclable) and was enjoying at least 3 — sometimes 4 — large cups of coffee a day. Each with skim milk and two sugars. Any time I felt a little down or tired I’d hit the machine. But then I stumbled across some information that opened my eyes to the effects of caffeine — and that the data on caffeine being an appetite suppressant and/or metabolism booster is sketchy at best. If anything, caffeine may give you a short-term buzz that fends off hunger, but then you’re going to come off of that buzz and be more interested in food than you would have been if you’d skipped that cup of Joe in the first place — not to mention all the bad stress-like effects that caffeine wreaks on your body. So there I was, relying on caffeine to keep my cravings away, and I was actually shooting myself in the foot. (Speaking of feet, one of my motivations in altering my diet is that I broke my foot more than two months ago and it’s refusing to heal. I was hoping that removing the sugars, cheap carbs, and caffeine that tax that body — and replacing them with an emphasis on raw vegetables — would stoke my healing ability.)

Going off of caffeine was SO much easier with the help of Teeccino. I’d never had this herbal coffee before, and I LOVE it. (Thanks, Brenna!) Teecccino company, if you’re reading this, I will do ads for you for FREE. It’s all-natural and many varieties are largely organic. Totally caffeine-free. It doesn’t taste quite like coffee, but it satisfies in the way that coffee satisfies — and I only put a tiny bit of sugar in it (which I’m working on weaning off entirely). At the beginning, I blended regular coffee with Teeccino in increasingly smaller doses so I could ease off without the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. OMG, Teeccino has made such a huge difference for me — I have several flavors and can honestly say that I don’t think I’d be off caffeine without it. I still get that “ooooh, I’m having a treat” feeling that I used to get from coffee. (Bonus: I make my Teeccino using the reusable Keurig filter, so no more waste.)

I don’t know if it’s the drastic reduction in sugar and cheap carbs, the elimination of caffeine, or the raw green protein smoothies that I try to have every day, but my skin has never looked better and my energy has never been more abundant. I’m sleeping like a dead person and waking up refreshed. My creative bandwidth is unprecedented. Has all of this helped my broken foot? The next set of x-rays is scheduled for the end of next week, so we’ll see.

So, all of this goes to say that I couldn’t bring myself to load the kids up with tons of Easter candy this year. All that sugar, all that artificial food coloring and chemicals — ugh. It’s just not good for them, and will be a real shock to their bodies after eating so well for the past few months. And I don’t want to have it around to tempt *me* either. We can’t go cold turkey, as that would be a little unfair, but I drastically reduced the amount of candy that the Easter Bunny will be hiding, and the kids’ Easter baskets (even the teenagers still get them), with the exception of a chocolate bunny in each, are filled entirely will non-food items. That was actually fun. But in order to transition in way that’s satisfying for everyone, we need to develop some new traditions. I want to focus on creativity, health, family, and the new season.

If you celebrate Easter, what are your favorite non-food treats? Do you have any Easter crafts — in addition to the can’t-miss annual egg-dyeing — that have become traditions? I’d love your ideas and inspiration!

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