On Budgets and Budgeting

“This planet has – or had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”

"Parable of the Rich Fool" Rembrant, 1627

“Parable of the Rich Fool” Rembrant, 1627

 – Douglas Adams (1952 – 2001), “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” 

One might think from my choice in artwork and quote that I’m in the “money doesn’t matter” camp, however, that is far from true. I just also see the humor in it all.

I have a good job and I make a decent living, but there was a time right after my divorce when I was broke. So broke that I thought I might lose my house… and a lot more. Many things helped me get through – the love and support of friends and family, a fierce determination not to go under, and a budget. It was a budget that I lived and breathed by. I didn’t make any decisions without consulting it. It was my Ten Commandments, my oracle, my Magic Eight Ball.

Eventually though, things worked themselves out and I didn’t need to watch my pennies quite so closely. Things have been running fairly smoothly for quite a while, but over the last year, I’ve started thinking about using a budget again. Part of it has to do with the fact that fitness is expensive. I don’t see it written about all that often, but being fit costs money. Take running – people say it is great because you don’t need any equipment: step out your front door and just go. Then in the very next breath they’ll say, “Well, you should get good shoes. And,” they’ll admit, “good shoes are expensive. But it is worth it.” I agree, it is worth it, but what they don’t mention is that if you are a woman you are also going to have to shell out for a sports bra, and if you are a woman who is larger in the chest area, those don’t come cheap. You can compare them to cheap running shoes – sure, you can get some for under $20, but you don’t want to. Then, once you have those, you should get some decent socks, because good shoes are no good with bad socks, and really, you should have some kind of light for night running, and then…. you get the idea.

Here’s something else – in my case, getting fit helped me significantly change sizes. So, all the running clothes I bought when I first started running? I had to buy all new ones a few months later because the old stuff was falling off me. That includes that very pricey sports bra – they only work when they fit.

So yeah, costs. There is weight lifting: I bought a weight bench at a garage sale for $10 and borrowed a bar for the weights, but weight plates are running roughly $1 a pound, and I keep needing more of them! Of course, there were also the books I bought to learn how to lift in the first place. Then there’s cycling. A friend gave me a free bike, but I still had to have it tuned up, have new tubes installed and had to buy a helmet. I’m still saving up for a bike rack.

On top of all this, there are other things I want to do – I want to do some home improvement projects and I’ve been considering a career change. If so, I’ll want funds in the bank. As things are now, I am fine. I am able to do what I want to do and pay all my bills. I’m setting money aside for emergencies and Hermes’ vet bills, but I want more. And I don’t want a second job.

I’ve decided to go back to the budget and see what it can tell me. This month I’ve been starting to collect the numbers. Of course, November and December are ridiculous months to create a budget in, there is so much holiday spending, food buying and socializing, but I’m just plugging in figures and seeing where they go. On my Lift app, I am tracking “saving money” and trying to make sure that I get in some No Spend Days and use my coupons – I am trying to build more shekel saving habits.

I have decided not to make any decisions or significant changes until January or even February. I’m just using this time to help me create a starting budget. Then I will see where that leads. I’m hoping I can find some way to make the pennies squeak – I’ve got a whole lot of goals ahead for next year!

Food and Happiness

"A Dinner Table at Night"  by John Singer Sargent, 1884

“A Dinner Table at Night” by John Singer Sargent, 1884

“The only time to eat diet food is while you are waiting for the steak to cook”
– Julia Child (1912 – 2004)

I’ve been changing how I eat. It’s happened slowly, more by intuition than by anything else. When I started losing weight, I did it with the MyFitnessPal app. At the time, I made a simple vow – eat whatever I want, just make sure to stay under the calorie goal. I did that and it worked. In fact, it worked beautifully. Several friends have not had the same success with the app, but people’s bodies work in different ways. For me, it was perfect.

As I went, I realized that grains (wheat, rice, corn, etc.) were really high in calories for the size of the serving. For example, I figured out that I could eat twice as many of my favorite homemade chicken tacos if I used romaine or cabbage as a shell over tortilla. Plus, because they are stuffed with chicken and avocado (and I was eating twice as many,) I felt full longer. Same thing with rice. I love white rice. For many, many years my breakfast of choice was white rice with butter and salt. However, once I started figuring the calories, the servings just didn’t make it worth it. Little by little, I gave them up, not as a conscious choice, exactly, but as a way of getting bigger and better meals.

I weigh myself daily and I’m pretty tuned in to how my body is feeling. I also discovered that my body takes a long time to metabolize meat. I did a little research on it and started figuring out things about how foods are used in the body, and slowly began another change – I began making breakfast my biggest meal of the day. I ate a lot of protein in the morning, a lighter lunch and a mostly vegetarian dinner. I found that I felt fuller longer throughout the day, but I wasn’t sluggish at night. My body seemed to really like the whole “Eat like a King at breakfast, a Queen at lunch and a pauper at dinner” scenario.

Then I ran across gokaleo.com. I’ll be honest, she rubbed me the wrong way at first. (I suspect based on some of the reactions she gets, I’m not alone.) Yet, many of the fitness writers I admire kept referencing her site. Eventually I added it to my log of daily reading. Slowly, her message started seeping in. It wasn’t that I disagreed with it, in fact, in many ways I was already doing what she was suggesting – working on incremental changes, getting a variety of exercise on a daily basis, and adding strength training as a key part of the mix. One of her other suggestions took a little longer: eating a gram of protein for every pound of bodyweight.

I decided to try it. I love experiments, and this was something I was kind of already working towards, although I was far below the daily goal. So, roughly 3 or 4 weeks ago, I started trying to do it regularly. 2 weeks or so ago, I started tracking it on the Lift app.

Honestly? I love it. I feel great. Here’s another interesting thing – for a very brief while I was trying to get an even amount of carbs, fats and proteins: 33/33/33. It was a nightmare. It was like when I had a container garden and I always ended up with too many plants and not enough dirt and pots, or extra pots and no dirt. Whatever I did, I could never get the ratios right. Trying to do that with food was much, much worse.

Then I saw on a forum that someone said they worked towards the protein goal and didn’t worry about the rest, that it somehow always worked out. Sure enough, it almost always does. Oh, for some of the day one part of the pie chart will be larger than others, but by the end of the day, it all evens out. It seems fairly easy to get carbs and fats into the diet!!

Here’s the important part – after I lost the weight, but before concentrating on getting the high protein, my weight was doing these odd little yo-yos. Nothing big, but weird: 2-3 pounds up in a night, 1 pound down the next day. Wilder swings that I would have imagined, considering the circumstances. Once I started eating the protein, the curves leveled off. Oh, I still have ups and downs, but they are more waves than cliffs – and I know why they are there. My weight now has settled down to where I love it, and doesn’t move all that much. It’s fantastic.

I’m not saying this is for everyone, I am just pointing out that this is what works for me, and works really well. This morning I had an amazing breakfast (New York Strip, anyone?) and I have a delicious lunch planned. As far as food goes, I am eating really well. And, I still haven’t cut anything out completely. I mostly stay away from processed grains at my house (except for the odd bit of granola or oats in an apple crisp) but will have them when I am out and being social. I watch my sugar, but I don’t regulate it too much. I drink wine (and beer), eat cheese, meat and vegetables with abandon.

Most importantly? I feel great and I’m happy.

Photo credit: “A Dinner Table at Night” by John Singer Sargent, posted by HumanSeeHumanDo on flickr

Quiet Time

Adolphe Borie: Girl Meditating

“Sitting still is a pain in the ass.”
Noah Levine (1971 – )

I’m trying to develop a practice of daily meditation. It’s another one of the habits I am tracking on Lift. I like to meditate after I work out and during the week on my lunch hours. Other times I meditate just before bed. I like guided meditations, I have an app that I like (Simply Being) and a couple of different podcasts, including some out of UCLA. I pick the meditation based on my mood and how much time I have, but typically I sit for 10-15 minutes.

I enjoy meditation because it gives me a chance to just be quiet and still for awhile. Thoughts come rushing in, but I can let them go for a bit and focus on a simple idea or just my breathing. I’m not looking to be a yogi or anything, all I want is to just have a few moments in every day of quiet. Occasionally I sit in lotus, but most often I don’t. (Especially when I’m sitting in my car during a lunch break. The steering wheel would get in the way!)

It’s a small thing, something I am doing for myself because I enjoy it. I think it is all part of a healthier me – physically and mentally.


For those of you interested in meditation, check out this article: How to be Uncomfortable about learning how to sit. It’s good stuff.

Photo credit: Adophie Borie: Girl Meditating, HumanSeeHumanDo on flickr

Lost Dreams, Found

Sleeping with the animals“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”

 – Werner Herzog (1942 – )

I am using the Lift app to build some daily habits. One of those habits is getting enough sleep. I’ve written before about how I do best with a full eight hours of rest. It isn’t easy, what with being busy at night and trying to get up and exercise in the mornings, but I’m finding that using Lift helps me stay on track. It pushes me to think ahead and plan out when to be in bed and when to set the alarm.

I haven’t hit the full eight every night. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, but in the last month that I have been working on it, I have gotten more consistent rest than I have gotten in years. And I’ve discovered something interesting – I’m dreaming again. I didn’t realize it, but I had lost my dreams. It wasn’t until they started to come back that I realized they’ve been gone.

I am known for having epic dreams; dreams with plots, characters, special effects and even the occasional musical number. These are full color, massive dreams, and dreams that I can (to some degree) control. In these dreams I am other people – men, women, children, even animals or beams of light. These are to the “went to work naked” dreams what Beowulf is to the Roses are Red poem. I’ve been having them since I was child, but I haven’t had one in a long time.

They are starting to come back.

Oh, I’ve had some dreams – I wrote about one I had about kayaking recently, but they’ve been simple, short dreams, not the monsters I have known in the past. The last few nights however, I’ve been getting glimpses of big dreams. I’ve had some that were loosely looped and hooked together like a child playing with yarn. I’ve had some that started to take me deep down into the brine, before letting up. It appears that my epic dreams come only under certain conditions, and one of those is copious amounts of sleep. A month of good rest isn’t quite enough, almost, but not quite. It will take more. I’m getting there.

With the resurfacing of my dreams, I feel creativity stirring inside of me. I think the two go together. Again, I haven’t missed it, I’ve been focused on other things, but I find myself thinking about drawing again, making things, building projects, at the very same time I’m starting to dream again. I can’t help but think they are connected.

I wanted to get more sleep for my health, but I think it is doing far more for me than I ever anticipated. It makes me look forward to night.

 

Photo credit: “Sleeping with the Animals” by Jonf728 on flickr

Rain Boots and Snow Pants

Rain boots and Hermes

Hermes admires my new rain boots and snow pants.

The weather here in the Midwest has been… interesting. By interesting, I mean cold, windy and wet. We had thunderstorms, high winds, tornado warnings, and snow, all pretty much at the same time. Sunday night I busted out my brand new snow pants, which are pictured here, with my brand new rain boots.

I wrote about wanting rain boots awhile ago, but it took me awhile to find the right pair. I stopped at every store I could think of in town, (including following up on some suggestions from people who commented on my blog,) but without any luck. Then I found the perfect pair on Amazon. They were everything I wanted, and in the right price range. The only problem was that the design I wanted ended up being backordered. Curses! A couple of days later, I was wandering through our local mega-grocery store and lo! they had rain boots! They were the same brand I had picked out on Amazon, but a different pattern. They were on sale, so I picked them up. This way I can see how much I love them, and when I wear them out (I am really tough on footwear,) I can order the other pair.

I also recently bought snow pants. I wasn’t actually looking for snow pants when I bought these, I was looking for water-resistant pants. However, the only thing I could find with water-resistant layers were snow/ski pants – and all of them were expensive. I finally lucked out with a pair of Columbia ones I found at TJ Maxx. These will do nicely. (I also bought some water-resistant spray on coating, and I plan on making my own lighter pair.)

With the crazy weather, I’ve needed both. The snow pants are super warm and I went and splashed in several big puddles and found the rain boots are doing the trick for keeping me dry. That’s all good, winter is coming and Hermes and I have many, many more miles to go.

I apparently really, really like this pattern. Note all the water on the pants. It was pouring!

I apparently really, really like this pattern. (The rug and the boots were not bought at the same time.) Note all the water on my pants. It was pouring that night!

Step By Step

walking“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.”

 – Ellen DeGeneres

It’s been a month since I started using the Lift app to try and build some daily habits. Over the next couple of days, I thought I would update you on how things are going.

I really like using Lift. [A quick recap: the concept behind Lift is simple, you select your daily goals and when you do them, you check in. Other folks on Lift who are working on their own goals can see what you’ve done and give you “props” for your achievements. It’s fairly simple and it’s a free app.] I find it motivating and it’s helping me get on track, especially with exercise.

I’ve been exercising fairly regularly for awhile, but I haven’t had much of a set schedule. My goal this summer was strength training three times a week and two to three runs a week, with anything else I could fit in between. As it got colder, and is now pitch dark by the time I get out of work, I was becoming less motivated. So, I set myself a simple goal, fifteen minutes a day. It doesn’t matter what I do, my goal is to make sure that I get at least 15 minutes of extra exercise in a day. (I say “extra” because this means above and beyond my normal twice a day dog walks.) Before I would sometimes do my weight lifting on the same day as a run, but nothing the next day and so on; now I wanted to be more deliberate about it.

The main reason? Entropy. “A gradual decline into disorder.” I was afraid that a few days off would lead to a week off, which would lead to a lack of motivation to get out there at all. Setting a 15 minute a day goal is my way to make sure that Old Man Winter doesn’t derail my fitness plans.

What I’m finding is that I am doing a lot more walking. Squeezing extra time in my morning and evenings can be tough, but during the week I always have a lunch hour. One of the ways I’ve been hitting my 15 minute goal is by power walking on my lunch hour. While technically I could just go for 15 minutes, I never do. If I head out, it’s always for at least a half hour and up to an hour, depending on the weather and how fast I can eat my lunch. (If work is slow I can eat at my desk while working, if things are busy, it’s best I take a complete break.) I’ve been enjoying it so much that I even walk on my lunch hour if I’ve already run or did my weight training in the morning! On perfect days I walk for forty minutes and then sit in my car for twenty while listening to a meditation podcast. It gets me out of the office, in the fresh air, and some time to just sit and be still before going back to work.

The weather does make the whole thing tricky though. I live in the Midwest, the weather changes on a dime. I’ve added warmer socks, a fleece headband and a hat to the gear I carry in my car. (I already had an extra pair of running shoes, gloves and a jacket.) I’ve started wearing tights under my work pants and if I am wearing a long skirt to work, I bring along a pair of fleece leggings. It sounds like a lot of work, but really it’s just planning. Like a Boy Scout, I like to be prepared!

On the weekends I love to get in runs when I can, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. My solution? More walking. I just tack on extra time to my dog walks! I’ll go an extra 10 in the morning and 5 at night or some other combination to get my 15 minutes in.

All this was why I really glad to read this article on gokaleo.com: Walking for Health and Fitness. Yes Walking. She’s got some great ideas in here, and I am intrigued by the idea of adding some weight. Maybe not for lunch hour walks, but perhaps to the daily dog walks? Still working it all out, but I’m pretty happy so far with the way things are going!

 

Photo credit: Megan Ann on flickr

I Froze My Face Off!

frost by Joel KramerThat’s right, I am typing this without a face. How? you ask. I am just that good.

The reason I no longer have a face is that I went running before work! It was dark, windy and cold. How cold? 24 degrees Fahrenheit, or -4 Celsius for my non-American friends. Other than the whole face thing, it actually went pretty well.

I got up early and walked the dog, then came home, switched into running gear and went out for a short run. Now because it is cold, and since losing weight I am cold all of the time, (All the time – even now. Yes, right now I am cold.) I wear several layers when I walk the dog. For example, I wear a fleece hooded sweatshirt over a long underwear shirt. I pull up the hood and pull the long sleeves over my hands and use the thumbholes. Over the hood, I wear a hat, and over the sleeves on my hands, I wear heavy gloves. The bottom half is the same way – long underwear, heavy walking pants, ski socks, boots… yeah, I look like I am going on an exhibition every single time I leave the house. I just need a sled and more dogs.

Now, I also wore two layers of clothes when I ran, and I admit, when I got home and had to change out of three layers of clothes (two plus coat) and back into three, I almost gave the whole thing up. It occurred to me that if I am going to do this again (which I will,) I should just wear the running clothes under my walking clothes in place of long underwear. Yes, that will probably bump me up from two layers plus coat to three layers plus coat, (two running layers, one outwear layer) but seeing as we haven’t even really got into the really cold weather, I think I’ll be fine.

The dog walk actually warmed me up nicely, so it wasn’t really that bad, except for my smallest two toes on each foot, my kneecaps and my face. Those were darn cold. I got through it though, and it felt great. I was unsure about keeping up with my running through November, but I’ve pretty much proved to myself that I can do it.

I did do one smart thing though, I set out all the breakfast fixings the night before. The pan and utensils were ready to go, the ingredients for a breakfast ham, cheese, veggie and egg scramble were cut up and on the top shelf of the fridge. When I walked in the door, I popped in the shower for a quick hot wash up and was able to have a good breakfast ready to go in just a few minutes. It was great.

So, until the snow flies, I’m going to keep on keepin’ on.

Photo credit: Joel Kramer on flickr