Losing weight, trimming debt, and data

As I write this, I’m halfway to my goal weight, something I honestly wasn’t sure I’d accomplish. But I’ve really replaced some old habits with new ones that are healthier. I’m certainly not perfect, but I’m hoping that I’ll mostly stick with these habits long term. Data has been a big part of that, at least for me. I’ve tracked every calorie in and every calorie out. Just knowing that grapes have very few calories compared to chips is huge. I mean, you could guess that. You know that intuitively, but to really see that every time I eat a handful of grapes, it’s less than half the calories as the same handful of chips. And, according to an article I read a while back (whose link is lost to the black hole that is the Internet), it’s likely my body actually burns calories to process those grapes while it doesn’t have to burn as much for the chips, netting fewer calories overall. Here are just a few things I’ve done that I’ve found helpful:

  • Eat the healthiest thing on the plate first. Salad, vegetables, etc. then you’re less hungry for the things that pack more calories or fat.
  • When going for seconds, get the healthy stuff. Again, get veggies or salad not potatoes or fries or meat.
  • For dessert, eat fruit. It’s sweet and tasty, better than chocolate cake.
  • You can have a beer or glass of wine or cocktail and still lose weight. Consider it a treat.
  • Count everything as you go. You don’t want to get to dinner and find out you’ve gone over your allotted amount of calories. If you have a big lunch, there’s still time to work off those calories before dinner.
  • Move. Every day. Just get up and do something. Walk, go up and down your stairs. Garden, wash the car, chase the dog.
  • Wear what you have. You don’t need fancy clothes to exercise in. You can walk in your street clothes even.
  • If it’s less than a mile, walk. If it’s less than two miles, walk or ride a bike.
  • Weigh yourself (or measure your waist or whatever you are concerned about). I weigh every day even though it’s very up and down. Some people prefer once a week. I just like the data I get.
  • If you’re hungry, eat, but eat healthy. Never go hungry. It’s not going to stick if you’re starving all the time. When you’re hungry, you’re more likely indulge in those chips or the cake. I keep fruit, granola bars, carrots, cheese, etc. around for snacks.

None of these things take that much time. Some days I walk longer than others. Some days I make more elaborate meals than others. When I’m pressed for time, I make something easy and I only walk for 1/2 hour.
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On the debt front, things are moving more slowly because I just started and, unlike weight, I can’t track my debt reduction day by day. It’s a month by month thing. But I can track my money. The main way we got into the debt we’re in is overspending. Knowing how much we have in our bank account means we are less likely to overspend. I was never good at tracking money. I think there was one year where I actually wrote everything down. But everything’s online now and we don’t really write checks, so it’s easy to keep track of.

I check our account every day and figure out about how much we need to spend before the next paycheck: what bills are due, what food we need, and what other items we need (clothes, home items, etc.). Food and bills are non-negotiable, though I can trim the grocery budget usually. It might mean we stay in versus going out. And seeing what we have, I can better decide if we can buy school clothes or get some books we want or go out to dinner. In other words, I can plan! Right now, things are a bit tight as I try to put a little extra toward debt and savings. My hope is in a few months, it will feel less tight as the debt dwindles a bit. It’s going to be a long haul, but weirdly, having had success on the weight front makes me feel like I can succeed on the debt front, as long as I keep track of things.

Take the train

A couple of weeks ago, we were in the car behind an older driver, who clearly was having difficulty. I said that when I got uncomfortable with my driving skills, I was going to take the train. We had a whole conversation about how my kids should gently let me know that my driving skills were deteriorating. I said, “Just tell me to take the train. I’ll know what you mean.” Moments later, I said something silly, so my family said, “Maybe you should take the train.”. So now they say that whenever I’m acting a little goofy. I’ve already heard it this morning if that tells you how goofy I sometimes am.

On a serious note, Mr. Geeky and I watched How to Live Forever, a documentary about aging mostly gracefully. Aging kind of sucks in our youth-focused society. The minute the wrinkles appear or you show up in comfortable shoes, you get the old label. I try to ignore most of it, but it’s hard not to. And I succumb too often to rituals and practices meant to keep the aging process at bay. Every morning, I stare down my wrinkled and aging eyes and sigh. I know those wrinkles were earned, in long nights up with kids or studying or preparing for class. But most people don’t think that way–about themselves or others. So I try to repair or cover them. At some point, I know I won’t care anymore. But in these middle years where I straddle youth and age, I can’t help but try to stay youthful. Someday, I’ll take the train, but right now, I want to keep driving my own car.

Changing banks

Over the summer Mr. Geeky and I decided to switch from our giant conglomerate bank to a local one. Changing banks these days is much harder than it used to be. All of our bills are paid online, so I had to switch everything over. And it takes time for new direct deposit requests to go through. It’s really a several month process. And, in fact, our process won’t be complete until the end of the month.

Already, though, I’m glad we switched. I accidentally scheduled a couple of bills to go out before my first paycheck went through. The bank actually called me to make sure everything was okay. And, after I hadn’t received my new debit cards, I called the bank to see what was up and they couldn’t have been nicer. I like good customer service. Our other bank actually paid a ton of money because of its horrible (and illegal) customer interactions. So I’m happy to be starting the new year with positive feelings about my finances.

Losing weight, getting fit, again

For the last five or so years, I’ve wanted to lose weight.  I’ve written about it here a lot.  I’ve made it a New Year’s Resolution many times.  And many times, I’ve failed to lose weight.  I’ve fallen off the exercise/diet wagon.  I was lamenting not having time to exercise to someone last night, and they said, “You have to make time for it.”  Which I know.  And I can’t decide where to make time.  Morning seems out unless I get up 1/2 hour earlier, which I don’t see happening.  I have a hard enough time with the crack of dawn hour I get up at now.  Last year, I did get home at a semi-reasonable hour most days–by 4 or 4:30, which allowed time for a walk or something and which I honestly did every once in a while.  But now I’m running an after-school program and I sometimes don’t get home until 6.  On my best days, I’m home at 5:15.  My inclination when I get home is not to jump into an exercise routine, but have a glass of wine, chat with husband and start dinner.

My other issue is what kind of exercise to do.  Walking is fine and dandy, but it’s working the same muscle groups and probably not doing anything to work off inches where I want, namely, my butt and thighs. Also, I get wimpy about cold weather.  I’d like to do some yoga again, but feel the need to take a class, which costs money.  Maybe I just need to bite the bullet and do that.  I have a friend who runs a yoga studio and I think I should look into that.

So, I keep seeing this series of decisions I can’t seem to make and failing.  I’m inclined to at least give it a try.  Mornings are out, evenings are in, and dammit, I’m going to call my friend with the yoga place.  I’ll let you know how it works out.

 

Inertia

I’m fighting a losing battle with it.  Every day this week so far, I got up, got the kids off to school and started working.  I started building my class blog, making detailed notes for the first week of class, reading the textbook.  I wrote a little.  But what I want to do is take a long, hot bath with a good book.  And truthfully, I can. I could.  But I’m also trying to keep up with the workouts, which I should be on my way to doing right. this. moment.  But I’m not going. It’s bitter cold outside.  And I just don’t wanna.  I don’t want to change clothes, work up a sweat and then have to rinse off, change clothes again.  And then, when the kids get home–about 1.5 hours from now–I have to corral them into homework and there’s dinner to make and a PTO meeting to go to.  And thinking about all of that makes me tired.  And cranky.  So I’m going to let the inertia take hold today.  Tomorrow I’ll work out.  Today, I’m taking a bath.

Recession: Personal Effects

I was going to write an upbeat post, given that it’s Friday, and it looks like it’s going to be gorgeous today and through the weekend. There’s a lot to look forward to.

But, underlying much optimism is the knowledge that for many people, the world is not looking bright and sunny. I’ve been reading NPR’s Planet Money for several months now as a way of keeping up with what’s going on in the economy (in a way that makes sense but doesn’t shy away from complexity). A couple of days ago, they posted about the suicide of David Kellerman, CFO of Freddie Mac, and the familicide in Maryland that many now think was linked to mounting debt and financial problems. On my way back from a doctor’s appointment yesterday, I listened to a story about these familicides, which are up in the last few months and are almost always up during an economic downturn. Many problems don’t reach the level of familicide, and instead financial woes lead to increased incidents of spousal and child abuse.

As I drive around town, I’ve seen stores shuttered or giant going out of business signs. I’ve had the experience of going to a store to buy something only to find it out of business, as Anjali wrote about on her own blog. People I know at the college have been laid off. My stepfather was laid off. Parents of kids at my kids’ schools have been laid off. I regularly receive email from the college about budget meetings, budget cuts, etc. I feel a huge amount of sympathy for these people. I feel a sense of survivor syndrome given that I quit my own job and we can afford for that to happen. And yet I worry that, at 41, if I needed to get another job, I couldn’t. All that doom and gloom and conflicted feelings can be debilitating.

I think that’s what’s behind some of my blah. Yesterday, I got the letter officially terminating my part-time teaching gig. I, of course, had not expected to continue, so it wasn’t like this was necessary. The point of the letter was to make sure I returned my library books and gave up my office and its equipment, etc. Next week is the last week of classes. On the one hand, I’ve enjoyed teaching this class. I’ve learned a great deal about myself, about my teaching, and about the subject matter of the course. On the other hand, I’m looking forward to having more time to build my business and to explore other kinds of work. The bad economic situation makes me feel uneasy about that. It makes me think, maybe I should pursue another part-time teaching job just so we have some extra steady income. And then I think, but it takes time to do freelance consulting work and teaching would take away from it. And then I think, but the teaching is related to the consulting work. It’s a vicious circle.

The reality is that time will take care of some of these worries one way or another. Either we’ll discover we need for me to work or we don’t. Either the business will take off or it won’t. And then we can make decisions. I’m borrowing trouble, so to speak. And despite some financial worries on my part, I think it’s important for me not to have a regular gig for a while. In the weeks just before classes began, I was humming along. Things were good. I need to remember that instead of looking at the worst case scenario.

*someone in my blog world was writing about this the other day and now I can’t find it-gah!

Do what you love, not what makes you look good to others

I’m thinking about mantras, things that I can live by and that I can remind myself of whenever I find myself in a rut. It’s inspired by The Happiness Project. I’m kind of working on my own project, but I’m not sure how prescriptive I want to be. Gretchen has 12 commandments, and this is along those lines. It’s a phrase that keeps coming into my head lately. And I’ve actually written about this before.

I think I finished the Ph.D. this time and not the last time because I loved my topic. I had always loved it, but I didn’t realize it until I started working on it. I had chosen my former topic because people told me I was good at it and because I thought it would land me “a good job.” Once I realized there were no good jobs really, I just did what I wanted.

I have done many a thing in life because I thought it would make me look cool or look better to a particular group of people I was trying to impress. And most of the time it made me miserable. I’ve learned to recognize when that’s happening, of course, but there are subtle ways it often comes back into play. I feel like I ought to do things a certain way, read certain things, or watch certain shows. And now I’m stopping and asking myself if I’m doing something because I want to or because I think it makes me look “right.”

Now, I’m not eliminating doing things that I ought to, but don’t want to do–like eating well, exercising, or cleaning up–but I focus on what I want to obtain out of those things, not those things themselves or what they say about who I am. For example, long ago, I wanted to be seen as “the kind of person that exercises,” so I started jogging, tried to take up sports, etc. It. did. not. work. I am not the kind of person that exercises, but I can exercise if my goal fits something I really want for myself. Right now, I really do want to look good in a bathing suit, which I know sounds vain and all, but seriously, that’s what I want.

So I’m trying to focus on that as I think about what I’m doing, what I’m going to do, and not be drawn to things that might garner great comments at cocktails parties, but that would make me really unhappy.

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A nearly perfect weekend

I haven’t had one of these in a while. I often feel like the weekends are either slug mode after which I feel horribly guilty or filled with so much activity, it may as well be Monday. It started with a night out with Mr. Geeky, a much-needed escape from the kids and the rest of our lives. I spent much of Saturday not doing anything, though I did manage a trip to the grocery store. I tend to do this many weekends–set aside a day where I give myself permission not to do anything. Sometimes this slides into the whole weekend, leading to, as I mentioned, guilt. And sometimes, it’s just not possible because there’s two birthday parties and a soccer game to manage. But this weekend, not so. I played more WoW than I have in a while, with a reasonable number of breaks away from it. And since I squeezed in a trip to the store, I felt completely guilt free.

Sunday, Mr. Geeky and I got up early and then walked over to our local breakfast spot. We’ve only been there a few times, but it’s a place with no menu and a random collection of family and customer photos everywhere. Over the grill is a whiteboard that always has either a Bible verse or a religiously-inspired message. Mr. Geeky and I noticed that behind us hung two photos of Obama’s inauguration. We found this interesting since it contradicted the political vibe we were getting from the decor and from the clientele. The food there is good, though not fabulous, and the business, thankfully, seems to be thriving. We’ve seen one local business close down already.

After breakfast, I threw myself into laundry and other household chores, recruiting Mr. Geeky and the kids as necessary. I had decided that I didn’t want to start Monday surrounded by dirty clothes and clutter. Many loads of laundry and some newly hung shelves later, I felt free. I prepped for class. I even made cookies. It was kind of wacky. Maybe it was all the coffee.

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On another note, I’ve not been as engrossed in the news lately. I know there’s a stimulus package working it’s way through Congress. I’m actually pretty pissed about the whole thing, but have nothing intelligent to say about it. Mostly I’m tired of hearing a bunch of rich people complain about how the bill costs too much, doesn’t cut taxes enough, or whatever. I see future Tom Daschle’s there, not the working men and women whose lives are truly being affected by the crisis. And bleh to this Kristof column. He’s condescending to both scientists and women. And yet, the column is supposed to be about how banks need more women. It’s weird.

Although I sometimes wish I were keeping up with more, part of me feels like my stress level is better off without reading or watching politicians and pundits yell at each other.

The opposite of do more with less: just do less

This post this morning made me feel much better about my lack of energy yesterday. One of the things I’m actually focused on is doing less. Of coming back to a place of real balance. I had taken to heart the common corporate (and educational institution) mantra of “Do more with less.” I’m sure that mantra is even more prevalent today as companies cut jobs or ask workers to take pay cuts or forgo raises. I personally found that mentality very stressful and I bet a lot of other people do too. And part of my distress yesterday was that I found myself feeling like I needed to do more in order to be successful. But I just didn’t have the energy for it and so I thought I was being lazy and then beat myself up. The spirals of doubt we get ourselves into!

The other blog I’ve been following that brings me out of those spirals is The Happiness Project, now also on Slate. As Gretchen says in her first post for Slate,

I realized with a jolt that I never thought about happiness, or whether I was happy, or what I could do to be happier. . . . Some people think that wanting to be happier is a selfish, self-absorbed goal—but I disagree. Robert Louis Stevenson got it right: “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy,” he wrote. Research shows that happy people are more altruistic, more productive, more helpful, more likeable, more creative, more resilient, more interested in the problems of others, friendlier, and healthier. Happy people make better friends, colleagues, and citizens.

Like the “Do More with Less” mantra, society tends to value people who are “productive” or at least look that way. Those focusing on their own personal happiness are viewed as suspect. But I’m with Gretchen, being happy is a good thing for everyone, not just the person who is striving for it.

My daily routine, or, God, I do laundry every day!

This week is about establishing some sort of routine so that I don’t spend all my time eating bon-bons and watching “What Not to Wear.” I still feel that I need to dig the house out from under its years of neglect, so I really do do laundry almost every day. Something always needs to be washed.

My day starts at 6:30. I wake up Geeky Boy, shove him into the shower while I go get coffee. Mr. Geeky is sometimes responsible for this task, but a) he stays up later than I do and sometimes it’s just as hard to rouse him at 6:30 and b) Geeky Boy doesn’t get up for him as well and c) he’s not very patient with Geeky Boy’s resistance to waking up (yes, pot, kettle).* At 7:00, I wake up Geeky Girl and I go downstairs and make breakfast. Right now, that’s an English muffin and a half grapefruit. Sometimes it’s eggs. Sometimes we skip that and Geeky Boy eats at school.

At 7:30, I drive Geeky Boy to school. We’re within walking distance, but it’s a really long walk. He has to leave no later than 7:10 (which means getting up at 6:00) to get there by 7:35/7:40. When it’s cold, we always drive him. I’m home by 7:45.

Meanwhile, Geeky Girl has been getting ready at home. Mr. Geeky is away this week, but normally he prods her through the process. She needs less prodding than Geeky Boy, which Mr. Geeky likes immensely. He can check email, etc. and not have to be “on” as much. She leaves at 8:00 for the bus.

During my work days, I would get in the shower either right after I got home from dropping Geeky Boy off or between 8 and 8:30. Now it’s 8:30 at the earliest. When Mr. Geeky is here, I usually wait for him, so it’s 9 or 9:30 before I shower. This may seem irrelevant, but I generally don’t start my “work” day until after I’ve showered, but I think delaying that until 10 is going to be problematic, so the shower may get postponed in lieu of work. The joys of working at home!

At any rate, this week, I’ve worked through until lunch on a couple of writing projects, splitting the time evenly between the two, so about 1.5 hours on each. This is working for now, but I have a feeling, I may end up alternating days on each project or working on one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, something like that. The main thing I want to establish is that morning (which is my best brain time) is for work of that nature, not for housework, etc.

After lunch, which lasts only 20 minutes or so, I do housework-type stuff. I’m limiting this to only an hour. Each day is devoted to a particular part of the house. Today is living room day. What I’ve been doing is not just general straightening, but also massive cleanouts. Today, for example, I’m going to work on the entertainment cabinets, getting rid of some things we don’t need and organizing it. I’m also going to hang the blinds, blinds that we purchased at least 6 months ago (this is what I mean by neglect).

From 2-5, I putter. I’ve done different things. Sometimes, I just take a complete break. But mostly, I’ve been reading or finishing up a house project or baking. I’ve also tinkered around with a web site I’m working on for my future possible business, responded to various emails, etc. Geeky Boy gets home anywhere from 3-4 and Geeky Girl gets home at 4, so really, it’s hard to get involved in much of anything if I’m only going to have an hour to devote to it. When they get home, I get them started on homework. I also assign them chores. Every day, as I’m puttering, I think of things for them to do. Yesterday, I had Geeky Boy gather all the trash and take it outside. Geeky Girl is still excavating her room and they both had to clean the kitchen. Today, I’ll probably have Geeky Boy sort the recycling. Every day, there’s work to do on their rooms. I’m trying my best to establish new habits for them. In the past, there’s not really been time for chores except on the weekends and we all kind of rushed around in a vain attempt to maintain order.

This leaves evenings free. Sometimes, there’s more homework to complete or a chore or two to finish up, but generally, by 7:30, we can all relax and do whatever. Yesterday, we watched the Daily Show together. We’ve played games, etc.

I have a feeling that the holidays are going to throw a wrench in all of this. But, I’m hopeful that by at least Christmas, we’ll have a good enough foundation laid that I can really get cracking on things by January. Right now, I consider myself on sabbatical without a project.

*For the record, I think it’s ridiculous that school starts for teenagers at such an ungodly hour. I really, really wish they’d change this, for all our sakes.